Report of the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
The Chairman welcomed Richard Harris and David Ogden from Amey, who had been invited to attend the meeting to assist members in their consideration of this item.
Members were informed that Staffordshire County Council was responsible for a highway asset valued at over £7.5 billion providing benefit to all as stakeholders. The highway network was the largest and most visible asset for which the County Council was responsible. The way it was managed and maintained had a direct impact on the County Councils’ ability to deliver the vision of ‘a connected Staffordshire, where everyone has opportunity to prosper, be healthy and happy’. In recent years the investment in highway infrastructure and its performance had been increasingly under the spotlight. The current financial challenges and increased public demands and expectations have meant the management of our highway assets has never been more important to ensure we achieve our outcomes.
The Committee were informed that the Highway Asset Management Strategy and Highway Asset Management Policy will ensure that the Council as Highway Authority continues to meet its statutory duties under the Highways Act 1980. They took into account the ongoing financial pressures on the Authority, supporting delivery of the Council’s Medium-Term Financial Strategy and also the opportunities for the Council to take advantage of additional funding available from the Department for Transport. Members were invited to consider and comment on the Highway Infrastructure Asset Management Policy and Strategy; and the comments of the Select Committee would be reported to the Cabinet at the August 2019 meeting for them to take into account in their consideration of this matter.
Members acknowledged that there was a challenge between the interests of road users and communities and the ability of the County Council to allocate its funding to deliver a decent asset to provide customer satisfaction. Whilst there had been an improvement in response to repairs, there was still some level of concern over this. A member pointed out that all councillors had been allocated £20,000 to address defects and road infrastructure issues, but that it was an issue of capacity. Problems which had been reported last year were only now being addressed and it was queried how capacity would be managed. The Cabinet Member responded that the report provided a detailed background to the situation which the County Council was in. £75m was required now to bring the asset up to standard and £42m would be required every year to maintain it in a steady state. There was not sufficient funding, and the approach taken to repairs was first and foremost to maintain the safety of roads. The purpose of the £20,000 was to enable members to address problems that were really important in their local area. It was acknowledged that there had been improvement and progress and this deserved praise. Whilst recognising that there always had been and always would be a gap between funding needed and funding available a member questioned how this and the issue of capacity would be managed. Officers from Amey informed members that a key element was forward planning and the benefit to them of being given foresight of a programme of work. They suggested that it would be helpful if members could work together to maximise their £20,000 allocations, for example in co-ordinating gully emptying work to make it economically viable. It was acknowledged that resources were stretched.
A member queried what was being done to lobby the government for funding and what support would be given through HS2. The Committee were informed that officers and the Leader of the Council had been involved in lobbying. In relation to HS2, the priority had been to keep lorries on the main A road network and an agreement was in place around repairs to lower category roads.
A member commented on the decline in customer satisfaction and expressed the view that it was important to temper publicity around the additional funding given to members in order to manage expectations. They also expressed concern over communications with Amey.
It was acknowledged that these were difficult financial circumstances and that the Strategy adopted a pragmatic approach. Officers were urged to take every opportunity to seek government funding for larger structural issues. A member raised the issue of road signs being one of the County’s assets and expressed the view that it was important that these were well maintained. They also questioned the increase in claims for personal injury and damage, in particular how much was paid in compensation and how much did insurance premiums cost. Members were informed that damage only claims were generally less than £1,000, but that claims for personal injury were often much higher.
Members expressed concern over work undertaken by utility companies, in that temporary traffic lights often appeared to be used unnecessarily and left in place for long periods of time causing congestion and that work by different companies was not co-ordinated. Officers agreed that this was a challenge, but informed members that the planned introduction of a permit scheme would give more control. Officers from Amey confirmed that risk assessments were done in each case and that the safety of staff was the prime concern. In response to a question about the number of Inspectors in the County, officers confirmed that there were 24 in total, six network, five reactive and the remainder safety Inspectors. Members also queried the variation in response times to issues raised.
The Chairman thanked the officers from Amey and suggested that it would be helpful for them to be invited to attend future meetings from time to time.
a) The comments of the Prosperous Staffordshire Select Committee on the Highway Infrastructure Asset Management Policy and Strategy for Staffordshire which has been developed to fit within the context of the national code of practice for highways, Well Managed Highway Infrastructure and the available budget be reported to the August meeting of the Cabinet; and
b) Additional information on personal injury claims and updated information on average response time from enquiry to inspection be provided to the Committee.