Claims that people in the Wirral 'will suffer' because of the council’s decision to take back control of its highway maintenance have been dismissed.

The initial allegation came as the council’s audit and risk committee heard details of the process behind ending the four-year contract with construction firm BAM Nuttall.

It means the authority will now take responsibility for services, including maintenance of street lights, carriageways, footpaths, drainage and pothole repairs, but Cllr Jeff Green said the process “was not managed the way it should”.

The committee heard from Mark Smith, the council’s strategic commissioner for environment, at a meeting on Monday about how BAM Nuttall’s contract had been due to finish this March.

Because the firm had hit certain targets, it earned extensions, and so was expected to prolong its contract for another 12 months until March 2019, but by mutual agreement that date was then brought forward to September this year.

Now an important consideration is the timetable for getting the reactive services, worth £1m, in place for October, when the contract ends, the committee heard.

West Kirby and Thurstaston Conservative Cllr Green said he had concerns over how the process unfurled, and that other options could have been considered.

He said: “It was a four-year contract. How can it come as a surprise when it comes to an end? You knew how long the contract is, how can it be such a surprise?

“If we’re letting the contract go early, is that going to end up costing us more?”

Mr Smith responded by saying there was “no obligation” for BAM to take on the extension, explaining: “If the contractor is working and making margins, there’s premise there that he wants to carry on, but no obligation.

“We can’t go into a lot of detail but suffice to say the contractor has made a business decision. There can be a whole variety of reasons why they decide to do that.”

He added: “We are in position where we are bringing services into direct control. We are going to be working really hard to commission those workers as effectively as possible and achieve savings. We are going to be working really hard as a council team to deliver value for money. That’s something we’re really committed to do.”

Cllr Green responded with concerns over how the handover would affect the roads in the area, adding: “It strikes me that certain assumptions were being made about this contract. If we have been caught short that we haven’t had the opportunity to think through more innovative approaches, I find that a little disappointing.

“I am really keen for my residents to have good roads and pavements. This contract really matters and there will be people coming forward with petitions to council to talk about the state of roads.

“This matters to the public, and this has not been managed the way it should, and it’ll be residents of Wirral who suffer.”

It came after Mr Smith explained the process of decision making for bringing the services – which involve 28 full-time employees – back in house, a decision welcomed by several councillors on the committee.

That decision was announced last year, with the council saying it was a “significant step” to ensure Wirral residents received value for money.

He added: “The outcome of an exercise we did suggested there were two variants. Either to bring services directly within the council’s organisational structure, or make an ‘arms-length’ council company like other councils have.

“The ‘arms-length’ company approach is only viable if you already have an arrangement in the council, but that hasn’t been the case here. So the outcome of the process was that we will look to bring services back within direct control of the council.”

Speaking after the meeting, Paddy Cleary, branch secretary of trade union Unison, said: “I am at a loss to understand why tax-paying Wirral residents will suffer when the highways contract comes back in house.

“The management of public services in house leads to greater accountability, transparency and governance.

“It enables 100% of public money to be used for public purposes, rather than the private sector looking for profits, top slicing on contracts and as such public money.”

BAM Nuttall was also contacted for comment.