Suffolk: County pressing ahead with selling road maintenance contracts

THE first stage in Suffolk’s bid to find a contractor to maintain and develop the county’s roads is now under way.

And all the county’s highways maintenance is on target to be managed by outside contractors by April next year.

Last year Suffolk decided to transfer its road maintenance to an outside contractor. Now the county is going through the first stage of selecting a contractor.

It has advertised for interested companies to apply to “pre-qualify” in the official Official Journal of the European Union. Firms have until early next month to ask to be able to bid.

During the spring and early summer the council will draw up the detailed specifications for the contract and it will whittle down the number of companies during the summer and autumn.

A final decision on which company should maintain roads in Suffolk should be made by the county council at its meeting in December.

County councillor with responsibility for roads Guy McGregor said Suffolk already contracted-out about half its road maintenance.

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He said by contracting out the service, a larger company would have more leverage when it came to negotiating a good price for major contracts.

Suffolk was working with Norfolk County Council on the search – although there would not be a single contract covering the two counties.

Norfolk’s maintenance contract runs for longer than those in Suffolk which all run out at the end of March 2013.

The contract will include the maintenance of roads in Ipswich, which are currently contracted to the borough council.

Mr McGregor said: “We already have contracts in place for many different areas of road maintenance. This will bring it all under a single contract which should make management much easier.”

The value of the contract will be about �40 million a year, and the initial contract will run for at least five years.

The county hopes to save about �2 million a year without affecting the service it provides – and Mr McGregor emphasised that people would still contact the council if there were road problems.

He said: “We will still have area highways managers and they will be the contact point for issues like potholes or road issues. It will not be for the public or councillors to contact the contractors directly.”

The county would retain ownership of its depots.

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Cann said the county was risking much in the hope of saving just five per cent of its maintenance budget.

He said: “Given the problems that the county has had in managing the CSD (Customer Service Direct) contract, it seems foolhardy to be risking a similar situation for the sake of just 5% of the budget. I could understand it if the savings were expected to be 10 or 15% – but this seems a very small saving for a lot of risk.”