County Council Highways Contract continues to Disappoint

It’s over two years since the Tory County Council took charge of highways in Ipswich (taking the contract away from Ipswich Borough Council) and almost as long since the County Council privatised the lot, with Kier winning the contract. In my opinion it has been a problem since the start in October 2013 due to poor organisation, too much box ticking, undervaluing of the skilled staff and the overnight dropping of all working practices in favour of new, untried, systems.

For 18 months I have queried the quality of this contract with the previous Suffolk County Council Transport Cabinet Member Graham Newman and now the current Tory Councillor responsible for Suffolk’s transport, James Finch. The response to last week’s article in the Ipswich Star (19 August) does not reassure me, or I suspect the majority of Ipswich residents. We were told that “over the past 20 months since the Suffolk Highways Contract with Kier, both SCC and Kier have refined and improved processes”.

I really struggle to see where these improvements have been made. Kier rarely start or complete a job on time or to budget. They close the road to traffic and then have no one working on the job, or just a token lone worker. They forget to put diversion signs up so drivers have no idea there is a closure until they are faced with a ‘road closed’ sign, or they try to run several road works close by with confusing contradictory diversion signs on the same roads. They leave traffic cones, roadworks signs behind often for weeks. And so it goes on. And they still repair one pothole at a time ignoring any others nearby that are either already in need, or very soon will need a repair because the work sheet must be obeyed, rather than common sense. These are a flavour of the complaints I and other Ipswich Labour Councillors receive from residents.

As I explained to Paul Geater last week, I sympathise with the operational staff. They are hardworking, and I believe would work more effectively without the poor organisation, so much paperwork, and tick boxes to complete.

It has been impossible to get any agreement from the Tories to my repeated requests for this contract to be reviewed. However this October, at my request, the success of the Kier contract will be challenged at the County Council Scrutiny Committee. We will finally be able to put the many complaints about poor highway repairs, sent to the Ipswich Labour Councillors, to the Kier bosses.

We were promised a quality service with a year on year efficiency saving of £1.5 million when the Kier contract was let. Neither has been achieved; instead we have a much poorer service, with a huge turnover of staff and lost skills in the contracts two years, and no demonstrated savings.
I thank residents for keeping me informed. I will make sure your complaints are put to Kier in October, and I hope that this time Suffolk County Council will listen.

Cllr Sandra Gage,
County and Borough Councillor for Rushmere, Ipswich
County Labour Spokesperson for Roads, Transport and Planning

Hear Sandra’s live interview on BBC Suffolk on 28/08/15 at 8.20am.

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