Suffolk: Road privatisation has increased bureaucracy, parishes warn

Bureaucracy has caused delays to road repairs.

Bureaucracy has caused delays to road repairs. - Credit: Archant

The privatisation of road repairs has led to delays and frustrations for many Suffolk parishes, county councillors have been warned.

Transferring road maintenance from direct county council control to private company Kier MG has increased red tape and made it more complex for parishes to get an immediate response when problems arise.

The issue was highlighted by Shona Bendix, chief executive of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils, at a meeting of the county’s scrutiny committee.

She said parish and town councils still had good relations with local teams, “But they do find the way of reporting issues less responsive and there are issues with getting work to be undertaken.”

She added: “We have to deal with both the county council and Kier MG. We report issues to the county but they then have to tell Kier about them and it all adds to the bureaucracy.”

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Speaking later she said: “It used to be that if there was an issue in the Hoxne are you’d ring up Gerald in the local office and things would be looked at.

“Now you have to put in a call to the county council who look at the problem, then pass it to Kier who look at the problem again and then get on with it.”

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She told the meeting that SALC had carried out a survey of parishes during the summer – and because of the time of year there had not been a great response.

However the comments and survey forms that had been returned had backed up comments the Association had been hearing from local councils over recent months.

Suffolk county councillor with responsibility for transport Graham Newman said he was aware that the system of reporting road problems had become more bureaucratic.

However the council and Kier were looking at simplifying this – and had employed a specialist to improve the way issues were handled and to reduce the backlog of work that had built up last winter.

During the first six month’s of Kier MG’s contract – which started in October last year – there were more than 7,200 emergency and priority call outs.

At one time there was a significant backlog of work, but this has been reduced considerably over the summer.

Mr Newman said: “Deborah Smart has come in and is making a major difference – she did a similar job in Wiltshire and managed to get things working much better.”

He said there had been major benefits from the privatisation – one of the main ones being the investment in new gritting lorries ready for the winter.

“We are now in a better position to keep the roads open whatever the weather throws at us – but we also need to improve the responsiveness,” he added.

The scrutiny committee made 13 recommendations to the administration about improving the responsiveness to highways problems.

These include streamlining the process of reporting problems to give more direct links with area officials, and improving transparency so people know how issues they have reported are being dealt with.

Scrutiny chairman James Finch said: “We have highlighted the issues of concern and that is the purpose of the committee – it is something that is now being looked at.”

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