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Regular news: Issue 591 2 Mar 2012

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Road management / Maintenance, East of England

Bucks re-thinks ‘thin client’ with expanded in-house management

Buckinghamshire County Council is expanding its in-house highways staff after the authority acknowledged the need for better performance management of an innovative term maintenance contract.

The authority has agreed to strengthen the six-strong ‘thin client’ in order to provide “a stronger focus on the needs of the customer”, councillor Peter Hardy, cabinet member for transport, told LTT.

 The move follows a scrutiny report from councillors suggesting that the client’s size “could be a potential weakness in terms of managing changes in personnel, providing effective challenge and keeping pace with the increasing volume of work undertaken by the contractor”.

Buckinghamshire signed an eight-year alliance contract with Ringway Jacobs in 2009 for the maintenance and development of transport infrastructure, creating an organisation known as Transport for Buckinghamshire. Fifty-eight council staff were transferred to Ringway Jacobs and others were effectively seconded to work under Ringway Jacobs management.

The scrutiny review found that, while the contract has successfully delivered efficiency savings, “slow or non-resolution of reported highways faults is an area of frustration for the public”.

It says the focus on efficiencies, together with budget pressures and two severe winters has led to a ‘customer blindspot’.

The scrutiny report said that Ringway Jacobs had brought “efficiencies and innovations”, noting that 25% more maintenance work was being delivered for the same budget.

But it added: “While financial efficiencies are a sound rationale for contracting services, the need to remain responsive to customer priorities must remain paramount.”

Political representation on the strategic board overseeing TfB is to be strengthened. Performance indicators will be introduced on defect repair response times and reducing the number of repeat contacts made by residents chasing reported issues.

The scrutiny report has recommended the council to “seek a contract development window to ensure the arrangement is delivering continuing value-for-money”.

“Fee/profit arrangements are perhaps generous considering the economic climate,” it said.

Hardy told LTT: “The contract allows us to get better value for money without having to formally re-negotiate the contract and Ringway Jacobs are taking a constructive approach to that.”

In response to the recommendations, Buckinghamshire will spend an extra £115,000 each year on 1.5 full-time equivalent contract compliance staff and a highways inspector to provide “quality checks”.

Hardy told LTT: “The task & finish group were spot on. We are spending £75m of taxpayers’ money on the highways service over the next two years, so we need a slightly fatter client to maximise value-for-money.”

In a separate development, the authority has also brought four highways development control officers back in-house.

Discuss this and more at LTT's Future of Highways Delivery Conference


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Paul
3 Mar 2012

Why is this not surprising? I would have thought that the thin client became even thinner with the stress of councillors and the public demands, probably faced with the dilemma of "if you want it done properly then please pay more". That's how contractors make profits in the public sector.