£50m Northamptonshire highways contract to go under the microscope

KierWsp has had the contract to manage and maintain Northamptonshire's highways since 2008.
KierWsp has had the contract to manage and maintain Northamptonshire's highways since 2008.

Northamptonshire’s highways contract is going to come under the microscope with findings reported later this summer.

The county council’s overview and scrutiny committee has decided to set up a working party of five councillors to pore over the details of the long-running contract with KierWSP, which costs the council approximately £50m per year.

The working group, which will be led by Conservative councillor Jonathan Ekins, will look at the contract. Council papers says the purpose of the review is to ‘get an informed overview of the operation and the effectiveness of services delivered under it’.

It will also look at how well the county council is monitoring the effectiveness of services delivered by KierWSP, which looks after the condition of the county’s roads, provides management advice and builds new roads.

The working group will take into account a 2017 internal audit of the service which gave limited assurance and found that almost £2m had been overpaid to the contractor in 2008 and not returned to the authority until 2016. Auditors concluded that the error meant the council had lost the opportunity to generate income while the millions remained with KierWSP. It also found there was inconsistent monitoring of invoices by NCC staff.

At its monthly meeting held yesterday (June 26) at One Angel Square in Northampton, scrutiny chairman Cllr Mick Scrimshaw agreed Cllr Ekin’s request to have the power to co-opt a member of the public on to the working party.

A number of Northamptonshire residents have been keeping a close eye on the contract and have complaints and concerns about the service.

The company was first given the contract in 2008 and then had its contract extended in May 2014 when Jim Harker was council leader.

The council decided not to go out to re-tender because it said the contractor was providing good value for money and to re-procure the contract would be costly.

The current contract runs until May next year.

The working party will report its findings to the August meeting and also call forward the cabinet member for Highways Cllr Jason Smithers and the council’s director of place Dominic Domini to answer questions.

The report will then be presented to the cabinet.

Since being set up 12 months ago, the scrutiny committee has looked at a number of big issues that have dogged the financially strained local authority which is now being overseen by two government appointed commissioners.

They have investigated the issue of a social worker shortage in the children’s services and also heard the plight of early years providers who were being paid late and wrongly for almost two years.