Highways : Against the Flow of Traffic

Flow of Traffic

We raised the issue (and our eyebrows) at the proposal to bring the highways contract back under Wirral Council control as part of our Wirral Leaks Weekly Dispatch #2

This particular story concerned a meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee (ARMC) where Cllr Jeff ‘Kindred’ Green wanted reassurance that the decision to bring the highways contract back in house wasn’t “written on the back of a fagpacket” . We also noted that :

Incidental dark comedic value is to be had from the ever oleaginous senior officer David Armstrong who promises a short report and ingratiating interm Monitoring officer Philip McCourt who says that the commissioning of highways contract is a ‘live project’ and that the report would be a ‘ partial measure’ – ain’t that the truth!

Needless to say council officers showed their usual contempt for opposition councillors by failing to produce a written report for yesterday’s ARMC follow up meeting. There were also no shows from McCourt and ARMC chair Cllr Adrian Jones . Consequently Deputy Chief Executive Armstrong was allowed by stand-in chair Cllr Angela Davies to hand the hot potato over to poor sap Mark Smith (Strategic Commissioner for Environment) to deliver a verbal report – all the better to hinder proper scrutiny when nothing is written down and there’s no report in the public domain for ‘ a particular website’ to pick (pot)holes. It was enough to give us an attack of the verbals.

As you can see from the John Brace footage of last night’s meeting Smith gives a tortuous explanation of ‘options appraisals’ and how the decision was reached. Although we have to say that as he’s on £90,532 p.a. our sympathy for his squirming is somewhat limited.

However the information that was eventually dragged out of Smith was most illuminating (and probably explains the lack of a written report) . It was revealed  that the current holders of the highways contract BAM Nuttall get £6 million p.a. from Wirral Council . Smith described it as an ‘unusual scenario’ that BAM Nuttall chose not to take advantage of a contract extension to which they were entitled. BAM Nuttall currently spend £5 million is spent on sub-contractors and £1 million on what Armstrong described as 28/29  ‘operatives’ . It is these ‘operatives’ who will be TUPE* transferred back to Wirral Council (if they wish) – and the sub-contracting from the private sector will continue.

* Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment ) Regulations.

We begrudgingly give him his due on this one (because he’s had a shadowy part in this shady story) but Cllr Green whipped out his calculator trying to deconstruct the £1 million cost of 28/29 operatives -which he calculated to be about £700,000 . Labour councillor Christina Muspratt attempted to explain the missing £300,000 as ‘on costs’ However it was eventually wheedled out of Smith that ‘operatives’ included both managers and back room staff (approximately half operational and half management) so it wasn’t just staff filling potholes and replacing streetlights.

Armstrong and Smith were particularly twitchy on the issue of TUPE transfers with the former interrupting through the chair to advise Cllr Muspratt  that there was a list of staff who were eligible and who can “TUPE if they wish”  to either BAM Nuttall or Wirral Council . Smith went on to say that ” it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into any further detail in this forum”

However might we suggest there remain pertinent questions that need to be asked :  a) are the managers subject to TUPE some of the same Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) managers from Wirral Council who failed to win the highways contract during a tendering exercise in 2008 and who’s contracts of employment  were TUPE transferred to Colas and then presumably BAM Nuttall in 2014 and who have been in dispute with Wirral Council for a decade ? b) did this ongoing dispute influence or play any part in the decision (under delegated powers) to return the highways contract to Wirral Council control and c) has this dispute been resolved – and if so – how? 

Whilst , like some of the councillors at ARMC  , we welcome the return of highways to Wirral Council control , we seem to be rather more enquiring as to the reasons why – especially when such a decision goes ‘against the flow of traffic’ when it comes to outsourcing council services.

WHAM ! BAM ! – Thank You Scam ?!

Bam

And so 9 years after outsourcing highways maintenance Wirral Council has suddenly -BAM! – out of the blue announced that it is to bring this area of council responsibility back ‘in house’.

Council leader Phil Davies thanked BAM Nuttall for their work but said this was the right decision for the council tax payers of Wirral.

He continued: “Wirral Council has to ensure every pound spent is wisely invested and we get the best value for our residents.This decision is the right decision at the right moment – the contract with BAM Nuttall was coming to an end and we believe we can deliver this service more effectively by taking direct control.”

Highways U-Turn

Note our emphasis on the words the right decision at the right moment. Care to explain more about that assertion Power Boy Pip? No we thought not!

We have to admit we didn’t see this one coming down the road – but then desperate times at Wirral Council call for desperate measures.  Whilst this U-turn decision may seem to fly in the face of Wirral Council’s transformation agenda , which largely consists of outsourcing as many public services as they can , for those of us with an understanding of what’s been going on behind closed doors lately and the startling developments that council insiders (and some outsiders!) have been letting on to us it all makes perfectly perverse sense. Let us explain why.

Cast your minds back to the heady days of 2008 when Wirral Council outsourced their highly lucrative highways contract out to Colas in preference to the in house Direct Labour Organisation (DLO).  Some aggrieved DLO staff , having had their employment contracts transferred to Colas , then cried foul  when it came to the tendering arrangements and ‘whistleblew’. Despite numerous subsequent investigations we don’t think it’s ever been properly explained as to what actually went on. All we do know is that it all went nuclear and the fall out is being felt within Wirral Council to this day. Colas eventually walked away from the contract and it was transferred to BAM Nuttall in 2014.

Now it seems we’ve gone right round the roundabout and highways maintenance services will be returned in-house to Wirral Council in October 2018.  All of which wants us to ask some pertinent questions as to why this is ‘the right decision’ and ‘the right moment’. The right decision for whom? How is are councillors Davies and Whittingham evidencing that this is in the best interest of council taxpayers? – that’ll be a first! and why now all of a sudden ? Will BAM Nuttall highways maintenance staff be transferred back to Wirral Council ? and if so will that include the DLO staff and particularly any of the ‘whistleblowers’ who we understand are still seeking compensation – for what exactly we’re not quite sure – from Wirral Council?

It seems to us that after a decade of dispute that would certainly get Wirral Council and , particularly some councillors, out of a deep, deep pothole they’ve dug for themselves now wouldn’t it?! #Wirralgate