FOI Request Blows Hole in County Council’s Pothole Process

In March 2023 the Herald questioned Oxfordshire County Council on the quality of workmanship and the process of pothole repairs in Henley in which they stated they take ‘before and after’ photos to provide some surety however, a FOI request by Herald reader and resident Piers Rake stated that “there is no procedure for review” due to 30,000 defects across the County per year.

As well asking how these photographs are assessed by OCC, including details of procedures followed by OCC to collect photographs taken and to review photographs, Piers asked for the name of the contractors who have contracts with OCC to undertake pothole repair, how much they have been paid over the last 3 years, the number of legal claims over 3 years for damage to vehicles, the duration of the current contract, number of instances where OCC have asked the contractors to remediate poor repair work and the number of instances the contractors have had to repair the repair work within 12 months in Henley.

In the response to the FOI request it states, OCC only have one highways contractor, Milestone Infrastructure Limited, who bought Skanska the former contractor in 2021 who had had the contract since 2010 (they bought them for £50M, a transaction that added £300M to Milestone’s group balance sheet).  The current contract will terminate on 31/03/2025.   Is this right that there is a contract for 15 years with one contractor for the whole county?

In 2022/2023, OCC paid Milestone £2,858,038 to fix potholes across the County and nearly £8m over 3 years. The number of compensation claims relating to potholes have quadrupled over the last 3 years – from 352 cases to 1422 (an increase of 120%) and they have spent £170K on legal fees.  The Council stated that 10% of repairs are inspected, on a monthly basis, however the Council were unwilling or unable to confirm the number of actual repairs inspected in any given location.

Despite on several occasions asking for the answers to number of instances for poor repair work and number of repairs of poor repair works, the Council declined to answer these questions.  The Council also refused to provide details on levels of compensation paid out in relation to personal injuries or vehicle damage caused by potholes.

The Herald is in receipt of a photograph of a pothole filled in on Greys Road that was sent to a driver after a claim to prove that the contractor had made it safe in the early hours of 2 September.  This same serious pothole was reported again on Fix My Street on 8 September (just 5 days later) after another driver damaged their car.

Piers said, “Anyone using the roads across the County knows how bad the potholes have got over the last 2 – 3 years and how often the same potholes re-appear every few months, even though the Council claim that ‘repair work’ has been carried out. With recent heavy rains and cold weather predicted, there will be more issues in the coming months.  Oxfordshire County Council, like every other council in the UK, is having to do more with less, due to inflation and increased demands, set against significant cuts in Central Government Grants over the last 10+ years. However, they are responsible for proper financial management of taxpayer’s money and for ensuring robust oversight of the quality of services procured on our behalf.

“It is time that the Council implement more robust quality controls over pothole repair work, and take more responsibility for how taxpayers’ money is spent.

“They should not stop there – the Council should go further and undertake an independent review of all areas of major spend. This would involve a comprehensive contract review, and include testing the effectiveness of the oversight, quality control and delivery standards of all main contracted services, prioritising those areas currently serviced by single-source providers.”

 

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