Robin ParkerThe Liberal Democrats have been very critical for many years about the poor performance of Highways at HCC. We raise it at every full HCC meeting and at other times. Each year, for many years, at the HCC Budget meeting, the Liberal Democrats have attempted to have the Highways budget (especially that spent on carriageway repairs) increased, but we have always been voted down by the majority Conservatives.

 

On this occasion (full HCC meeting on 26.11.2013) before the meeting we put down a critical motion about highways performance. The Conservatives tabled a weaker resolution. If we had left it at that, our motion would have of course been defeated by the Conservatives and their motion would have been passed. Instead, we discussed the motions with the Conservative group before the meeting and came up with a joint motion acceptable to both parties, which strengthened the criticism of HCC highways. This was duly passed. The advantage of doing this is that acknowledgement of our highways issues has now been passed and adopted by HCC formally, instead of our defeated motion (as it would have been) being unrecognised and ignored.

 

At the last minute (during the meeting) the third placed Labour group put a brief amendment which would have deleted paragraphs (a) (b) and (c) in the motion in the attachment herewith and would have amended paragraph (d) by deleting the words: “recognises that the overwhelming majority of highways work is carried out efficiently and effectively but that”. Presumably it would have left the rest un-amended. The Labour amendment was defeated and obviously the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives voted against it. [The Labour amendment also muddled the numbering of the paragraphs.]

 

The Liberal Democrats feel that the motion (as amended by the Liberal Democrats and as passed) was a more comprehensive and fair assessment of the situation than either the original Conservative motion or the Labour amendment.

 

In Stevenage, I have long criticised highways problems like:

  • Disintegrating roads;
  • Disintegrating mini roundabouts e.g. the mini roundabout at Fairlands Way/Chells Way is now 3 years overdue for repair;
  • Other jobs not done for years, e.g. the widening of the Fairlands Way/Mobbsbury Way junction which should have been completed over a year ago according to the planning conditions for the Nobel School redevelopment;
  • Hazards left as “made safe” for months or years with no actual repair, e.g. the footway near Lodge Farm School at The Glebe;
  • The traffic information signs which wasted £201,000 of taxpayers’ money (£100,000 from Hertfordshire council taxpayers).

 

Please note that I do not include the delays to the bridge repairs on Six Hills Way, because there are many special factors in that job which would make it unfair to simply lay the blame all at HCC Highways.

 

My comment: “The Liberal Democrats hope that the motion we forced through HCC last week will make the officials at HCC Highways sit up and take notice that all is far from well at HCC Highways.”

Motion to County Council – 26th November

a) notes after one year with disappointment and concern that the new and revised highways term contracts as well as the Call Centre are not fully functioning and working to the best effect for the residents of Hertfordshire and there are still a number  of issues that require resolving.

b) acknowledges that the category 1 and street lighting elements of the Highways Service Term Contract started poorly; but that the recovery plans have improved standards at least to the levels achieved under the old contract with an expectation of continuing further improvement;

c) welcomes the fact that the new suite of contracts is providing significantly better value for taxpayers’ money, helping the County Council to maintain the established volume of highways maintenance;

d) recognises that the overwhelming majority of highways work is carried out efficiently and effectively but that, with up to 10,000 faults reported each month and around 1,000 schemes each year, even a relatively small percentage of failures or difficulties can impact disproportionately on public perception of overall performance. In this regard it is concerned to hear of poor performance of the contractors in meeting acceptable standards and timescales especially when dealing with faults reported, leading to some being closed prematurely.

e) regrets that the new arrangements do not yet manage and meet customer expectations, particularly regarding the quality and timeliness of the flow of information to residents and members; and that, while qualitative feed-back about the Customer Service Centre is generally good, problems with its response times and its interface with both the County Council and its contractors continue to impact adversely on customer satisfaction

f) welcomes the continuing interest by the Overview & Scrutiny Committee in these matters and the planned meeting with the Executive Member on 12 December;

g) expresses its thanks to the cross-party Member Advisory Group in its role both prior to, and subsequent to, the letting of the contracts;

h) asks the Executive Member for Highways & Waste Management to continue to work with officers and members to resolve the issues that justify continuing concern and to report to the Highways and Waste Management Panel, and requests that if required and appropriate non-performance clauses in the Highways Service Term Contracts should be invoked to ensure that issues raised are addressed so that performance meets the aims and objectives of the Corporate Plan.