Suffolk signals its intent with major contracts for highways

Carbon reduction measures and more work opportunities for young adults are among ambitions for new £1billion highways maintenance contracts over the next 20 years in Suffolk.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet has been recommended to approve work on creating and securing three contracts from October 2023 – one for a main maintenance provider similar to what the council has now, with additional smaller contracts for street lighting maintenance and traffic signals.

Highways chiefs say those two areas with the emerging digital technology are likely to see greater changes in the next few years, and dedicated contracts for those areas will allow for more flexibility while still enjoying the purchasing power benefits of a single provider for all other aspects of road maintenance, reports the East Anglian Daily Times.

Other ambitions for the new contracts include improved communication for councillors and residents to know what work is happening in their roads; hopes for more work experience placements and apprenticeships for young adults in highways maintenance; and measures to reduce the carbon impact of road repairs.

Paul West, Conservative cabinet member for operational highways, said: “This is very much the start of the process working towards what will be the new arrangement from October 1, 2023.

“What is being proposed is that, by and large, the council goes with a single provider for the majority of services but we do recognise the need for a bit of flexibility for some services where technology is likely to progress significantly in the next few years.

“It makes sense to have proposed separate contracts around traffic signals and around street lighting because they are two different functions over and above the normal elements of the main contract.

“What that shows on the council’s part is we are responding to technology, and being flexible and open-minded as to what the way forward is, but equally acknowledging that overall the taxpayer gets a better return everything considered with the other services by having one single contract.”

The main contract is likely to be for a 10-year-period, with options for two further five year stints, meaning it will be valued at between £800m and £1billion over the 20 years of its lifetime.

Kier currently hold the contract, which is a 10-year deal expiring at the end of September 2023.

Around £2million is expected to be needed for the contract procurement work over the next two years, which head of operational highways John Clements recognised was “a lot of money, but in the context and risk of getting things right is an investment well made”.

He added that the length of the proposed contract would reduce the need for further large upfront sums in future preparing new contracts.

Robert Lindsay, deputy leader of the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said he welcomed plans for carbon reduction measures, but measures to improve cycle lanes and pedestrian pavements were needed to drive bigger carbon reductions to get people to shift from cars to sustainable transport.

He also raised concerns about the council not having services in-house, however the authority said it did assess an in-house operation and joint venture as part of its considerations but would be less viable for various reasons. Those include not having the same buying power as national firms carrying out the contracts and the council being less likely to be able to match private sector salaries, said the report.

The council’s cabinet is set to give the green light for work preparing the new contracts and securing providers at its meeting next week.

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