Highways Contract Performance
- Meeting of Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday 5 September 2018 6.00 pm (Item 7.)
Brent entered into an eight year contract on 1 April 2013, finishing on 31 March 2021, to provide a range of highway services, including reactive maintenance works, through the London Highways Alliance Contract (LoHAC). The appointed contractor is Conway Aecom. This report outlines the contractual arrangements in place at present, the measures for auditing the contractor’s performance and what the current performance levels are and how the contract is linking in a practical way to the Council’s Highways Asset Management Plan.
Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning) introduced the report to the committee which outlined the contractual arrangements in place, the measures for auditing performance, current performance levels and how the contract was linked to the Council’s Highways Asset Management Plan.
The report detailed that the existing, eight year contract with Conway Aecom was due to finish on 31 March 2021. The contract covered the provision of a range of highway services through the London Highways Alliance Contract (LoHAC), including safety inspections, planned and reactive maintenance, drainage, scheme implementation, and highways structures inspections and maintenance. A key feature of the contract was a lump sum “Find and Fix” mechanism where the contractor delivered the inspection service and rectified high priority defects. A variation to the contract was currently being implemented to exit this arrangement to improve consistency and responsiveness of service. There were a suite of performance indicators which were monitored monthly and were tied in to the payment process to ensure that the monthly amounts certified for payment were directly linked to performance. Auditing by Officers was carried out across all activities of the contract; the on gully cleansing had improved but timeliness of medium priority repairs remained a concern. A range of repair types were being used in a targeted way as part of the council’s Highways Asset Management Programme to improve the longevity of Brent’s roads and pavements and make limited resources go further.
Councillor Tatler advised that Andy Best (Contract Manager, Conway) was in attendance to assist in addressing the committee’s queries, alongside Jonathon Westell (Highways Contracts and Delivery Manager), Chris Whyte (Operational Director, Environment Services) and Amar Dave (Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment).
The Chair thanked Councillor Tatler for her introduction and welcomed everyone to the meeting, inviting Andy Best to reflect on his experience of the current contract and on working with Brent Council. The committee subsequently queried what factors contributed to delays in repairing defects, what action plans were in place to improve performance and the timescales for improvement against red rated performance indicators. Members expressed concern regarding the time it took for repairs to be made to some Category 2 (medium priority) defects. It was subsequently emphasised the self-monitoring Find and Fix mechanism of the contract created a situation in which it was in the interest of the contractor to categorise defects as Category 2, as the council was required to provide additional funds to the contractor for the repair of such defects. In exploring this issue, members noted the number of defects miscategorised. The committee then questioned the financial and other risks faced by the council as a result of not repairing potentially hazardous paving stones. Comment was sought from the Deputy Leader on the potential increase in the cost of a highways maintenance contract in the future, given the existing state of Brent’s highways and in view of the likely increase in extreme weather conditions.
Andy Best explained that on joining Conway he had identified issues in relation to the carrying out of cyclical activity, such as gully emptying, which had meant that related performance indicators were not being met. These issues had since been resolved and performance had improved. Conway was not currently fully compliant with performance indicators due to a lag in defect rectification; however, this followed a difficult period over the winter and was being addressed. Andy Best confirmed that on joining Conway he had inherited a confrontational relationship between the contractor’s staff and council officers. Efforts had been made to improve this and there was now a good working relationship in place. There remained two years, six months left of the contract and Conway was committed to delivering that contract. The Council and Conway would be entering into a contract deed variation regarding the delivery of defect rectification and that was due to be in place by early October 2018.
Expanding on his comments, Andy Best explained that the number of defects occurring during the 2017/18 winter had been unprecedented. This number had fallen steadily over the summer of 2018 and the latest performance indicators recorded a 95 per cent compliance against the measure for Category 1 defects. For Category 2 defects this stood at approximately 80 per cent. Improving the RAG rating of these measures within an eight week period was considered achievable but could not be guaranteed. Addressing concerns regarding Category 2 defects, Andy Best explained that currently, this category required council officers to instruct Conway to carry out the repairs and provide additional funds to accommodate the cost of the repair. In contrast, Category 1 defects were funded from a lump sum provided by the council and were repaired within 24 hours. It was acknowledged that there had been a small number of mis-categorisation of defects between categories 1 and 2 and that there was a conflict of interest between the two parties with regard to defect categorisation. Andy Best confirmed that Council officers provided very robust challenge on any potential mis-categorisation and highlighted that with the implementation of the deed of contract variation, this matter would no longer be relevant. Chris Whyte (Operational Director, Environment Services) added that the new contractual arrangements would grant the council greater powers to determine repair works. Councillor Tatler added that, moving forward, Councillor Krupa Sheth (Lead Member for Environment) would be conducting a review of contracts to which members would be invited to contribute.
Councillor Tatler confirmed that any defects that posed an immediate danger or risk would be fixed as soon as possible. The council’s insurance meant that potential injury claims posed no financial risk. The council maintained a fund to pay small claims and would refer larger claims to the insurance provider. Councillor McLennan advised that all options were being considered regarding Highways repair and maintenance going forward, including reviewing borrowing rates to fund a full repair of Brent’s highways, estimated to cost approximately £100m. Chris Whyte further explained that Officers and Lead Members had created a business case for the full repair of Brent’s roads, whilst at the same time exploring alternative means for reactive repairs. Some measures had been identified that were both very good and cost effective. Councillor Tatler noted injection patching, rather than full resurfacing, had been a successful and speedy solution. Consideration was being given to undertaking injection patching twice yearly to prepare the roads for winter and summer conditions.
The Chair thanked Andy Best for his contribution to the discussion and Andy Best left the meeting. The committee subsequently addressed a number of queries to the Lead Members and officers. Members questioned whether a single contractor was the best model for delivering highways services or whether the use of multiple smaller contracts could be used to support smaller businesses in Brent. Queries were raised regarding quality control of reactive repairs. The committee noted that the budget for Highways Maintenance was not sufficient and questioned whether consideration had been given to the implications for Brent residents of the funding decisions made for this service.
Councillor Tatler confirmed that the contract deed variation that was shortly due to be finalised would allow the council to explore options for reactive repair works, including contracting to smaller or localised businesses. Referring to the review of contracts to be undertaken by Councillor Krupa Sheth, Amar Dave advised that members would be asked to consider what needed to be delivered, how it would be delivered and for how long. Councillor Tatler agreed that there was not enough money for the full repair and maintenance of Brent’s highways but the administration was required to make difficult funding decisions across the council’s priorities and this was the political decision that had been made.
Addressing members queries regarding quality control, Chris Whyte emphasised that the internal audit team had audited the quality controls in place and had deemed them robust. Jonathon Westell advised that the team conducted a desktop audit of 100 per cent of repairs made, using the photographs submitted by the contractor after each repair. The contractor was only paid if the quality of the repair was approved via this audit process. This monthly desktop audit was undertaken by a team of two officers and site visits could be conducted when necessary. Chris Whyte added that following the contract deed variation, the council’s on-street resources would be increased.
The Chair thanked the officers and Lead Members for their attendance.
Requests for information
During the discussion it was agreed that the following information requested by the committee but not available at the meeting, would be provided to following the meeting:
- information on the longest time a Category 2 defect remained unresolved;
- the number of deductions made each month due to work being completed inadequately; and,
- an appraisal of how much a new Highways Contract would cost the council in two years’ time.
i) That the Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment ensure an update is provided to the committee in two months’ time on the performance achieved against the indicators set out in the report (PI 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8).
ii) That the Cabinet note the committee’s view that no self-monitoring contracts be entered into by the council in the future;
iii) That discussions be held by the Chair, members of the committee and officers regarding the potential to undertake specific scrutiny work appraising options for the repair of Brent’s highways, including consideration of funding via long term borrowing.
iv) That the committee endorse the statement of the Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning thanking the officers for their hard work in managing the Highways Contract.