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Suffolk opposition group councillors say highways maintenance must be brought back in-house to combat costs



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Road maintenance in Suffolk should be brought back in-house at Suffolk County Council to combat “astronomical” prices of work, opposition councillors say.

The Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group has launched a petition to secure public backing for creating an in-house highways maintenance team to control costs.

But the Conservative administration says an in-house team is not possible and could drive up spend even more.

Endeavour House in Russell Road, Ipswich. Headquarters of Suffolk County Council. Picture: JASON NOBLE LDRS
Endeavour House in Russell Road, Ipswich. Headquarters of Suffolk County Council. Picture: JASON NOBLE LDRS

The GLDI group said that its members had been quoted significant fees for maintenance jobs, which left it fearing that taxpayers were not getting best value for money.

Among examples quoted were £5,000 for a pair of dropped kerbs, £7,500 to cut down one tree and £10,000 to design four humps in a road.

The county council’s current 10-year deal with Kier comes to an end in October 2023, with the council currently working on procuring new contracts worth more than £1billion over the next 20 years from then.

Cllr Keith Welham, the GLDI group spokesman for highways. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL
Cllr Keith Welham, the GLDI group spokesman for highways. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

It is planning one main maintenance contract similar to what it runs now, with a separate smaller contract specific to street lighting and traffic light maintenance.

Cllr Keith Welham, the GLDI group spokesman for highways, said: “We have created this petition to give residents the chance to join us in calling for action to fix some of these astronomical prices we have seen given for simple maintenance jobs in Suffolk.

“For years council taxpayers have not received value for money from the current highways contract. We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to get the best price possible.

“After all, ‘value for money’ is one of the Conservative’s priorities, outlined in their business plan. We want to create a fairer system and a well-maintained network of Suffolk highways, and an in-house bid is one step to supporting this.”

Cllr Paul West, cabinet member for Ipswich, operational highways and waste. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL
Cllr Paul West, cabinet member for Ipswich, operational highways and waste. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

But the Conservative administration says that an in-house team is not viable.

Cllr Paul West, cabinet member for Ipswich, operational highways and waste, said: “There are many reasons why an in-house model would not be viable, including the burden of tens of millions of pounds in upfront capital costs associated with vehicles, machinery and traffic management – not to mention the ongoing cost implications for maintenance of these assets.

“External contractors have far greater buying power, industry standard skillsets and better knowledge of the new and emerging innovation and technology.

“We strive to deliver excellent value for money for Suffolk’s residents, and highways is no exception.

“Our current procurement process for the new highways contract which goes live in October 2023, involves going through incredibly thorough benchmarking activities to ensure we find the most suitable, competitive and reliable contractors to partner with and deliver these services.

“Prior to commencing the procurement, we also recognised the need to introduce new contracts for street lighting and traffic lights, allowing for greater flexibility to ensure we get the best deal across these specific disciplines.”

To view the petition visit www.petitiononline.uk/for_suffolk_county_council_to_develop_an_in-house_bid_for_suffolk_highways_maintenance.