Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Wirral Council) Part 1 Colas contract (HESPE)

The Chair, Cllr John Hale welcomed those present and asked for any declarations of interest. No declarations of interest were made.

The minutes of the meeting held on the 28th March 2012 were agreed, with the Chair asking for a further report on the consultation on library opening hours.

Cllr Steve Williams was elected as Vice-Chair (proposed by Cllr Hale, seconded by Cllr Fraser).

The Chair said he had asked officers to produce the Committee’s terms of reference.

On item 5 Highway and Engineering Services Contract – Third Annual Review he said they had expected a presentation by Steve Grimes, the Contracts Manager for Colas Ltd. Due to the public interest report Colas’s legal representative had advised them it wouldn’t be appropriate.

Mark Smith said that the annual review was part of the management arrangements, but they did have Wirral Council’s highways manager Rob Clifford and Brian Smith the project manager, sadly Colas had declined to attend.

Rob Clifford said there were challenges and risks associated with extending the project and asked if there were any questions.

Cllr Dave Mitchell asked why greater progress hadn’t been made on IT and whether this was their responsibility or Colas’s?

Brian Smith answered that they had tried to tender, but it was unaffordable as the expenditure would be three times what they’d save.

The Chair said he thought that Colas must think “the writing was on the wall” and they had no incentive to cooperate. He said the quality had been abysmal, there were potholes in newly surfaced areas and that the work being carried out was not up to standard.

Brian Smith defended Colas stating that generally the quality of Colas’ work was good and that Wirral compared well to other areas.

Cllr Tony Sullivan was critical of work on Pensby Road. Cllr Fraser asked about where any report on significant cost changes would go, Brian Smith answered that it would go to the Cabinet, however they had been waiting for the auditors’ report first and it would go to Cabinet on the 19th July.

Cllr Fraser asked what was meant by the phrase “inaccurate perception of facts”, were they implying residents don’t understand the facts?

Brian Smith said that residential streets weren’t resurfaced very often and they were starting to use different materials. Residents still expected rolling machines but they were not the only Borough using these surface treatments which would be the subject of a future report.

He then answered a question about the capital program expenditure and how some projects got delayed to the next financial year. The Budget was agreed annually by Council, but it was being flagged up as a risk as until they got tenders back they wouldn’t know the costs of what other providers charged.

Brian Smith answered another question with the answer that the weather often caused delays to planned work, that was why the letters to residents were sent out at short notice. The same councillor asked why the metal signs about the work hadn’t been removed when it was finished? She said it makes it seem to the outside world like they can’t organise getting the roads done.

Cllr Mitchell said that communication was poor but his own road had been done perfectly.

The Chair said the concerns were about lack of coordination, concerns about quality and the attitude that workmen had towards residents and the community.

A councillor felt he couldn’t agree with the recommendation that the work was satisfactory. The Chair suggested it was changed. Mark Smith said that their views could influence the future and whether the Colas contract was extended.

There was a debate about whether to leave satisfactory in the recommendation or not. Eventually they agreed upon the following.

(i) Note the progress of the contract during the past year, and endorse Officers’
views in the report that the performance of the contract is satisfactory.
Noting officers’ views but registering serious concerns in relation to coordination, quality and communication issues.

(ii) Recommend to Cabinet that the existing contract not be extended beyond its current 5 year term, and that the Director of Technical Services be requested to prepare an options appraisal for the delivery of highway and engineering services from 1st April 2014 in a report to Cabinet at the earliest opportunity.

(iii) Ask the Director of Technical Services to report on progress on preparation and delivery of a comprehensive exit and handover strategy relating to the satisfactory completion of the current contract, and effective and efficient transition to the new service delivery arrangements, in his future annual reports on the contract.

(iv) Note that officers will be undertaking actions, to be agreed by Council, in response to the External Auditors’ Report in the Public Interest; specifically in relation to the management of the contract; and ask that the Director of Technical Services reports on progress in delivering those specific actions
relating to the management of this contract in his annual report to the Committee in 2013.

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Author: John Brace

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