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Lib Dems: Damning report highlights “major weaknesses” in Surrey’s road repairs and winter maintenance

July 16, 2012 11:50 AM

Surrey County Council Liberal Democrats have called for urgent action, after an important County Council report has revealed shocking failings in the way the Council is managing the contract for Surrey's roads to be maintained and kept safe.

In the report, auditors have found that:

  • The contract estimated that 30,000 potholes would need to be repaired, however this has proved to be an underestimate. The consequence is that potholes will not be repaired unless they are unsafe.
  • Money is being wasted because individual potholes are being repaired in sections of road with many potholes, rather than treating the whole section of road at once.
  • Despite press statements and statements to councillors saying that salt stocks had increased they had actually fallen. The Conservative administration claimed that they were much better prepared for snow last winter than in previous years. In February a statement was issued stating that salt stocks had risen from 13,000t last year to 17,000t this year, when in fact in mid February they had actually fallen to 11,900t.
  • Some gritting routes are too long, meaning that lorries are taking too long to complete them, which could leave roads impassable and potentially dangerous.
  • The Highways Contractor has failed to achieve some of their major targets which would mean the County County could end their contract. However, despite constant claims by the Conservative administration that the County Council can end the contract at any time due to poor performance by the contractor, the important "Contract Exit Plan" document does not exist.
  • Orders for work over £5,000 are not being processed correctly and so are not being approved by a senior enough council officer. This could mean money being wasted due to a lack of checks.
  • Estimated budgets are being used to make decisions, so they are being made with inaccurate information. This could result in budgets being overspent and the wrong decisions being made.
  • There is no process for prioritising the order in which major safety schemes are carried out, meaning large variations across Surrey in how many schemes are being completed. For example only 2 were completed in Woking, compared to 7 in neighbouring Runnymede.

Liberal Democrat Environment and Transport Spokesperson Stephen Cooksey said:

"The Conservative administration has approved a defective contract which it cannot end as a result of inadequate performance by the contractor, this must be put right. The County Council is failing to control and manage the contractor. There is insufficient cost control and a lack of accurate information to make decisions. The consequence is that the system is complex, inefficient and bureaucratic. This leads to a waste of money, time and effort resulting in poor value for money, delays in carrying out repairs and some repairs not being done at all.

"The system is clearly failing. Urgent action needs to be taken for the sake of the Surrey's motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.

"There needs to be up to date and accurate information on which to make decisions and to prioritise work, the contractor should not be repairing just two potholes when a section of road is full of them, it is inefficient and poor value for money.

"If that wasn't enough, it has now been shown that time and time again the press, residents and councillors were told that salt stocks had increased last Winter, when in reality there was less than in the Winter of 2010/11.

"Urgent action must be taken to address all of the issues raised in the report, and undertakings must be given to provide Surrey's residents with accurate information, not spin without factual backing.

"Surrey residents deserve better."

Link to the report to the Internal Audit Report on Surrey County Council's Highways Contract Management (pdf file)