Highways construction giant Colas ends its troublesome contract with Wirral Council (From Wirral Globe)
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Highways construction giant Colas ends its troublesome contract with Wirral Council
Wirral Council’s troublesome contract with highways construction giant Colas is to be ended.
The firm has written to the town hall advising it does not wish to proceed with the agreement past March of 2014 under its existing terms.
The council, however, had already decided it did not want to extend the deal beyond that date due to "serious concerns regarding co-ordination, quality and communication issues."
A “value for money” report to the ruling cabinet next week shows that major problems have been encountered during the course of the contract, which was signed three years ago.
An extra £855,000 had to be found due to an “ambiguity” over repairing street lights.
This was off-set to a degree by £75,000 a year through reduced payments to electricity companies.
Around £92,000 above agreed budget also had to be found for filling roadside grit bins with salt from council stocks.
An inquiry earlier this year found councillors were not kept informed of the problems nor was their approval sought for a total of £1.4m of extra spending which became necessary as the contract progressed.
Ironically, repair and maintenance of the borough's roads, street lighting and pavements was "outsourced" to the private sector in a move that was supposed to save money.
Wirral became enmeshed in allegations of wrong-doing over the handling of the multi-million pound agreement, leading to the eventual suspension of technical services director Dave Green.
A report published in June by the Audit Commission concluded Mr Green “probably” broke European rules by meeting with a representative of Colas - and by then failing to declare an interest when the contract was awarded.
Birkenhead MP Frank Field even called for the Serious Fraud Office to investigate after being contacted by a group of council whistle-blowers.
The council is now set to appoint consultants to advise on the future of its road repairs and maintenance.
Their services are required as advice from the council’s own officers might be “inhibited by any perceived lack of public confidence.”
The cost of appointing a consultant has not been disclosed because it is “commercially sensitive.”
In a statement, interim director of technical services Chris McCarthy says he “considers it is an imperative that some manifestly independent analysis and advice is built fundamentally into the process.”
He further states that advice from the department's professional officers “might be inhibited by any perceived lack of public confidence in those officers in the current circumstances facing the council.”
Councillor Harry Smith, cabinet member for streetscene and transport services, said: “Wirral Council’s highways and engineering contract with Colas will not be renewed when it comes to an end on March 31, 2014.
“The process to decide how these statutory services will be delivered after that date is now underway.
“The interim director of technical services will present an options report to cabinet at the earliest opportunity.
“That report will be compiled with the assistance of an independent consultant – a specialist in the field – who will provide impartial analysis and advice on the range of options.
“At this stage the cost of appointing this consultant cannot be disclosed as it is commercially sensitive.”
March 31, 2014, was a scheduled point in the life of the contract when both parties could review progress and decide whether or not they wanted to extend it for a further three years.