Labour Group Open Letter on Highways Maintenance

In response to the concerns of your readers about the appalling way in which Suffolk’s roads are being managed, we would like to explain what has happened with the contract to run them.

On the 18th October, the County’s Conservative Cabinet took the decision to renew the Kier highways contract two years early.

On the evening of the 18th, the Labour Group moved to ‘Call-In’ the Cabinet decision. This process, if accepted by the Council, would have temporarily halted the renewal of the highways contract until the next meeting of Scrutiny Committee, who would then have the opportunity to consider all the arguments and decide whether to uphold the ‘Call In’ and send the decision back to Cabinet. Even if, as they have done before, the Cabinet simply ignored them, we felt it was important to ensure the concerns of Suffolk residents were properly considered. Even this attempt at democratic debate was turned down by Suffolk County Council, and the County is now tied to Kier for 7 more years.

The County Council has regularly and justifiably come under fire since Kier was awarded the original five-year contract for the maintenance of Suffolk’s highways in 2013, with at least half of its performance targets consistently missed and complaints from the public up by 51% from last year alone.

The Cabinet’s renewal of the contract was made on the promise that the new “Highways Transformation Programme” will guarantee higher standards from Kier. However, the majority of the proposed changes will not be in place until April next year. This decision is based on a vague belief that something that is not yet in place will miraculously turn around a service that is effectively failing. There is no solid evidence that the “transformation programme” already has or ever will deliver the vast improvement needed. When challenged, the Portfolio holder for Transport, James Finch, even claimed that this decision could be made with only 50% of the necessary information. Call us fussy, but we believe that when you are dealing with a contract worth over £200Million of public money, you should make a decision only when all the evidence has been collected, analysed and considered.

Why then have the Cabinet taken this enormous decision on such a loose premise and without all the evidence?

Renewing the Kier contract now was neither a contractual requirement, nor a reflection of what Suffolk residents actually want, but a deliberate attempt on behalf of the Tory-led County Council to prevent all elected Councillors between now and 2023 having any say in how our highways are run. The Council has now introduced a new Operational Plan. This waters down the Council’s highway standards, making it easier for Kier to get away with working to lower standards on many of our roads, rather than ensuring all Suffolk residents get a well maintained road network. No doubt in February we will find out how much more funding the Council intends to cut from the highways budget – we will resist that.

Labour County Councillors have called this decision unsafe, untested and seriously premature. Suffolk County Council has not listened to, or considered the views of Suffolk residents. We are bitterly disappointed that the Tory-run County Council has rejected our Scrutiny call-in and has tied us in to this unpopular contract without further debate or full consideration of all the facts. That is simply undemocratic.

Suffolk County Council Labour Group of Councillors
Cllr Sandy Martin
Cllr Sarah Adams
Cllr Sandra Gage
Cllr Sonia Barker
Cllr Len Jacklin
Cllr Mandy Gaylard
Cllr Peter Gardiner
Cllr Helen Armitage
Cllr Kathy Bole
Cllr Kim Clements
Cllr Bill Quinton
Cllr Bryony Rudkin
Cllr Peter Byatt
Cllr Janet Craig
Cllr Keith Patience

(Published in East Anglian Daily Times, 30th November, 2016)

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