South West TPA supporter Malcolm Leaver has been doggedly pursuing his local council for information on the cost to the taxpayer of street repairs in his neighbourhood—but has been given the run around by a South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) reluctant to cough up the details.
Replacing a footpath and kerb on a small stretch of a road near him cost a whopping £44,202, but he only found out the daily rate by mistake. ‘They sent me the time sheets in error,’ says Leaver. “They show rates of £850 a day for nine hours but these were not always worked as full days. Some of these days were not worked at all and some only part and casual. Some times I even noticed them shopping in the morning or sleeping in their lorry in the afternoon.”
“As you can probably appreciate,” came a response from SGC, “there is no system that can ensure that a workforce is fully engaged in productive work for 100% of the time on site and there will invariably be lost time or non productive time as there would be [in] any organization whether operational or office based.”
A nearby road surface was replaced, but within a year several parts of it had new cracks and these sections were replaced under a separate budget of £10,765. “SGC are of the opinion that their direct labour gangs are non-profit making,” says Leaver, “and even with the poor standard of work and costly repairs they infer the cost is cheaper than using an “outside contractor”. This road now has several “crazed/sunken” areas.”
Are local taxpayers getting value for money with these road repairs? From his research, Leaver doubts it. “If the cost is close to the budget, no one seems to worry.”
On another occasion, work was carried out on a nearby pedestrian crossing. ‘The work started with one man using a pneumatic tool to break up the pavement on the east side of the road,’ noted Leaver, ‘whilst the private haulier was parked on the grass verge on the opposite side of the road. One questions how much one man is going to break up to substantiate the use of a large tipper lorry privately hired? After that initial start, no work was carried out the next day or so.’
Again and again, Leaver has asked to see documents referring to the cost of these repair projects, but the council has not provided them or dragged their feet over several months. Following an official complaint to the council about this, their Head of Legal and Democratic Services acknowledged that SGC had raised expectations over the public inspection of documents that they did not meet. The council officer advised a payment of £100 in compensation to Leaver ‘in recognition of the frustration and inconvenience he has experienced in this matter.’
As for the lack of value for taxpayers’ money, the officer responded by saying “contractors and machinery are hired on a day rate (a 9 hour minimum period)” and that “such contractors would have to work around the progress of the scheme and would not be continuously working through the period… There are therefore times when there appears to be inactivity but this is a necessary requirement of completing a scheme.” Does that include sleeping in a lorry in the afternoon?