Cheshire East seeks to ‘quality assure’ future road repairs

Roads resurfacing image

A quality assurance officer will be recruited to inspect work carried out on the borough's roads to help the authority drive up the quality of highways repairs and ensure value for money in the work done.

Cheshire East Council recently approved a new budget, which includes a £19m capital investment in planned highways maintenance over the next three years.

However, this investment by Cheshire East Council is set against the backdrop of a £3m cut in government funding for highways maintenance in 2020/21, and a freeze in government funding for the next three years.

For many years, funding for highways maintenance has been below the level necessary to prevent deterioration of the highways network. The council is now seeking to ensure that these limited funds are spent in the most cost-effective way possible.

Councillor Craig Browne, chair of the council's highways and transport committee, said: "The vast majority of our residents understand that budgets are tight. However, they are also frustrated when they see the deterioration in the condition of the highway.

"I am pleased that this investment in quality assurance will go some way towards addressing that. The council has the in-house skills to work with our contractor to ensure we improve performance, deliver high-quality work and demonstrate we are a council that listens to residents' concerns and acts on them."

Councillor Laura Crane, vice-chair of the council's highways and transport committee, said: "Whilst the level of funding provided by central government is simply inadequate to meet the maintenance needs of Cheshire East's roads and prevent them deteriorating further, we are increasing that level of investment by £19m over the next three years.

"This additional investment is having to be funded by borrowing, which although necessary in the short term, isn't a sustainable position in the long term.

"The only real positive from this settlement is that we at least have funding certainty for the next three years so can better plan ahead, looking at how we can use the financial surety to generate even greater value for money.

"But the frozen level of government funding does not take into account inflation, which is running year on year at a 30-year high – so we are looking in real-terms at a cut in government funding each year."

In addition to the additional investment in the road repairs programme this year, the council is also planning to increase spending on highways inspections, responding to emergencies, hedge/tree maintenance and managing flood risk, including gully emptying.

Councillor Browne added: "We are a large semi-rural authority with a complex and extensive highways network. Assessment by our strategic highways team shows that we need to invest close to £30m each year to keep the roads in their current state and this level of funding has not been achieved for many years.

"This means that we are now facing a backlog of repair works totalling well over £100m, which remains unfunded."

The council is to initially recruit one quality assurance officer. The council's head of highways also has a newly-expanded quality assurance role.

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Comments

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Kelvin Briggs
Friday 25th March 2022 at 11:27 am
Good to see Quality Assurance introduced for highway repairs.
Could it be extended to include Cheshire East footpath repairs?
It’s only 5 months since the level 2 foot path reconfiguration with new tarmac on Ryleys Lane opposite Chorley Hall Lane corner.
Sadly weeds are sprouting daily lifting the tarmac at the Chelford Road end .
If I’d paid to have a new tarmac surface on my drive and it failed after 5 months I’d be disappointed and calling back the contractor to remedy.
David Hadfield
Friday 25th March 2022 at 10:22 pm
It seems from this article that only NOW are Cheshire East deciding to recruit a "Quality Assurance Officer" to check the work carried out on road repairs ?
Has no one inspected the previous work done over many years ?
Shame on you.
Stuart Redgard
Saturday 26th March 2022 at 11:22 pm
#David Hadfield.
The answer to your question is basically yes. This was part of the terms and conditions that the previous Conservative-led Council agreed to when appointing Ringway Jacobs in 2018.

see https://tinyurl.com/53c3cpb9

So please do not blame the current Labour and Independent team who are now in charge of the council and are trying to renegotiate the terms and conditions.

The following is extracted from the article referred to above:

in 2018, Councillor Glen Williams (Conservative), the deputy cabinet member for environment, said:


"This new contract with Ringway Jacobs will better meet the needs of our residents and road users, whether it is gritting in the winter months or road repairs and resurfacing work during the better weather.

"We have an extensive urban and rural road network and the demands on our service are understandably severe at times.

"I am confident that this new contract will ensure we continue to deliver the highest possible standard of service throughout Cheshire East and deliver value for money for our residents and businesses."

If the performance of RINGWAY JACOBS has been to the standard required by the terms of the agreement, then I would suggest that:

1) The terms and conditions agreed with were simply "not adequate'.

2) They have not ensured the highest possible standard of service throughout Cheshire East.

3) They have not been "value for money", for either the residents or businesses.

And just for clarification, I am not a member of any political party, nor do I support any of the political parties represented by any councilors on Cheshire East Council.
Duncan Herald
Monday 28th March 2022 at 5:25 pm
Proposed salary for proposed Officer?
Any paid staff for proposed Officer?
Where would a proposed Officer be based?
Claire MacLeod
Monday 28th March 2022 at 6:53 pm
Stuart Redgard. I salute you. Thank you for an informed and balanced post. I completely agree with your analysis.
Claire MacLeod
Monday 28th March 2022 at 7:17 pm
And, Duncan, if the creation of a position to sign off the quality of a contractors' work, worth millions of pounds, is the thing you are querying, along with where he/she might be based, I think you may be missing the point. Yes, of course the work should be of a certain quality, but clearly it isn't. So employing an officer to check what we, the tax payer, are paying for is worth our hard-earned money, sounds sensible to me. What else would you suggest?
Duncan Herald
Wednesday 30th March 2022 at 8:18 am
Hi Claire,
1. I simply would like to know how much of 'what we the taxpayer, are paying for' will amount to; a few thousand? 100,000 ?
2. I'll accept, with guarded approval, that what is proposed MAY be a 'good thing' BUT how do we measure the efficiency ? i.e. how shall we know that it will be 'yes, working well' or 'useless' ?
3. if the Council's Officers and/or Politicos truly believe that we are not getting what we have paid for, then stop paying/walk away ? and please don't tell me that we can't !
Duncan Herald
Wednesday 30th March 2022 at 8:56 am
Hi Stuart,
glad to see you write 'Conservative led' rather than Conservative.
Is it possible that you might be able to quote the actual vote and which parties/Councellors voted for the Ringway Jacobs 'deal' ?
Craig Browne
Wednesday 30th March 2022 at 5:57 pm
Hi Duncan,

The decision to which Stuart refers was taken by the then Cabinet on 12th June 2018 (please see the link below). At that time, the Cabinet comprised eight Councillors, all of them Conservatives, who were able to give authorisation for Cheshire East Council to enter into a 15 year contract with an estimated value of between £525m and £600m over the period. There is a break clause after 8 years, meaning that the earliest "walk away" point as you describe it, is October 2026.

If any single decision vindicates the Independent Group's insistence, following the election in May 2019, that the Cabinet System should be scrapped and replaced with a politically proportionate Committee System, where all Councillors are involved in making key decisions, this is it. Thanks to the Independents, important decisions involving such significant sums of taxpayers' money can no longer be made by just eight Councillors, still less can they be made purely by members of the same political group.

The contract, signed in October 2018, also foresaw that Quality Assurance would be undertaken by the Highways Contractor, rather than by Council Officers. This led to a situation where the company or companies carrying out the work effectively marked their own homework, something else that we are trying to change; hence the article above. I might add that the Conservative Group at Cheshire East Council consistently opposed the introduction of the Committee System, something it continues to do to this day.

Kind regards,
Craig

http://moderngov.cheshireeast.gov.uk/ecminutes/documents/s64188/Highway%20Services%20Contract%20-%20report%20final.pdf
David Carey
Thursday 31st March 2022 at 7:48 am
Firstly, thanks to Stuart and Craig for highlighting the decisions made around the initial contract. The important issue here is that with so much taxpayers money at stake, the scrapping of the cabinet system decision making and being replaced by the politically proportionate committee system was completely the right decision to this day.
As for the contract having the bit about the highways contractor QA their own work explains why we have numerous issues with shoddy workmanship and repairs having to be done over and over in the same physical location.
Bob Bracegirdle
Thursday 31st March 2022 at 10:29 am
The difference between direct labour and contractors? And what is in the contract regarding the requirements of pothole filling for example?
Alan Brough
Thursday 31st March 2022 at 4:22 pm
Given the value of the contract award to Ringway Jacobs I am absolutely astonished that the responsibility for quality control was handed to the contractor. That is an abject failure on the part of the Council at that time - regardless of party.

Similarly I am appalled at the failure of the current Council to use every method available to it to extract itself from what is clearly and demonstrably a breached contract.

Will the appointment of a Contract Manager change things? If so, why wasn't an appointment made much earlier?
Claire MacLeod
Thursday 31st March 2022 at 5:47 pm
Thanks, Craig. Very informative and enlightening. What a shocking tale. A comedy of errors. Except it's not funny.
Pete Taylor
Thursday 31st March 2022 at 5:54 pm
Duncan Herald, you asked Craig Browne about the Cabinet voting regarding the Highways outsourcing contract in 2018; he has reminded you that all eight members of the Cabinet were Conservatives (I'm surprised that as a former Conservative AE Parish Council member you were not aware of this).

May I also jog your memory? This was actually a renewal of an existing contract outsourcing Highways to Ringway Jacobs, who were initially given a five-year contract back in 2011, with an option to extend by two years. At the time there was much trumpeting, in public, by the (Conservative) Cabinet member responsible for Highways, telling us that he was going to save us a million pounds a year with this contract; well, we all know how that worked out. You can find the details here: https://www.wilmslow.co.uk/news/article/4938/cheshire-east-launches-new-highways-service

Given that there were complaints about road surfacing and repairs during the original contract it seems remarkable that the two-year extension was given and almost unbelievable when lane extra fifteen years was subsequently awarded to the same company in 2018. To find that the company was responsible for their own quality assurance actually is astonishing.
Duncan Herald
Saturday 2nd April 2022 at 8:58 am
Craig and Pete,

it would seem that the Tory Council at the time made a truly horrendous cock-up.

Alan,
pleased to see your comment on 'breached Contract'; I agree with you and that the present Council can surely get out of such a situation now, rather than waiting a few years?
Stuart Redgard
Wednesday 6th April 2022 at 10:47 pm
#Duncan Herald
If you want this information then I suggest you make a freedom of information request.

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