“These things can happen” is the lame excuse given by the leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council (B&NES), Paul Crossley to the news that work has halted on four major roadworks in and around Bath. Just weeks before the city’s busiest time of the year for shopping, the delays are sure to affect hundreds of retailers already hit by the Council’s previously botched transport schemes.
B&NES gave ERH Group several multi-million pound contracts to finish the crucial roadworks by Christmas and yet the firm has admitted in a recent statement that it has been facing financial troubles over the last two years.
“When Councils, or businesses for that matter, award large contracts to companies they usually undertake some due diligence to ensure that the company is financially sound, trading legally and is very likely to complete the work without issue,” says local businessman Julian Deverell. “If you were working in a large business and didn’t carry out these checks, you’d have some very difficult questions to answer if things go wrong.”
Local councillor and opposition transport spokesman, Anthony Clarke, agrees. “We simply can’t have a situation where so many important road schemes are left half-finished over the Christmas period,” he says. “There are also clearly questions to be asked about what monitoring and checks have been undertaken by the council of the work undertaken so far, and why the council has put so many eggs into one basket by granting so many important contracts to a single contractor.”
“We were not aware of any financial troubles when the contract was signed,” says Crossley. “These things can happen and companies can either collapse or fall. We are making sure the work is resumed and finished.”
But will it be finished in time to save traffic misery for thousands of visitors to Bath, local shoppers and retailers? One of the roadworks was the re-routing of traffic away from Widcome High Street. The plan, plus the lengthy disruption caused by the roadworks, has already upset many local traders and hampered their businesses. Now, with the roadworks delayed, their problems are likely to continue. And yet B&NES has—and continues—to give Mike Watts a hard time for completing his own successful toll road quickly and at his own cost.
“The question looming in my mind is why on earth did B&NES Council award a £5 million contract to a company that has been in financial strife for 24 months?” says Deverell. “I know it’s early days, but this is beginning to remind me of the Bath Spa fisaco of some years ago. What extra costs will the council taxpayer incur as a result of this fiasco?”