OVER 67,000 road defect reports have been logged since the start of Herefordshire Council’s highway maintenance contract with Balfour Beatty – a high number of which were inherited from the council’s previous contract with Amey.

The sheer number of inherited reports saw a fourfold increase in defects categorised as serious, making it difficult for Balfour Beatty to achieve the contractual standard.

Around 51,000 defect reports have now been dealt with, some 40,000 over the past six months.

With the council’s latest public realm contract now a  year old, a task group is to be set up to test the way it is working.

The council’s overview and scrutiny committee is expected to sign off on the task group at a meeting on Monday.

Historically troubled, the public realm is arguably the council’s most significant given the range of services covered.

This year, road repairs and grass cutting have put the function of the  contract in the frame.

As reported by the Hereford Times, Whitehall now wants regular pothole filling progress reports from the council to ensure that more than £2 million of extra road repair funding is being well spent.

Over  2014/15 and 2015/16  an extra £20 million of works is planned targeted to fix roads either  in the greatest need of repair or having the “greatest value” to  communities.

Public pressure forced a review of reduced grass cutting schedules.

The revenue budget for public realm services have been slashed by 30 per cent  from £8.6 million to £5.8 million.

Capital budgets have been significantly increased with an investment programme of over £25 million.

The service has also seen a 37 per cent cut in cost over the past year.

 But a report prepared for the scrutiny meeting says Balfour Beatty initially found it “difficult” to achieve required road repair standards given the  “high proportion” of defects inherited from the Amey contract.

All told, more than  £3 million of “disputed items” remained to be resolved when the council’s contract with Amey ended a year ago.

Then, the council was warned that these disputed items could impact on budget planning.

Amey itself  had to cover much of the £2 million plus its predecessor was found to owe when it took up the contract.

Public realm was one of the council’s first private sector partnership initiatives.

In 2003 the council entered into a contract with national construction and engineering firm Jarvis PLC for the provision of contract services worth around £13m a year over 10 years.

The contract involved establishing a joint venture company called Herefordshire Jarvis Services (HJS) with staff transferred over from the council’s former commercial services arm.

Just a year later Jarvis saw its share price plummet and started talking about breaking up the company to survive.

A proposed sale of HJS that all parties came to rely on fell through and the council had to prepare contingency plans to keep key services running until Amey agreed to buy the 80 per cent share Jarvis had in HJS with the council keeping its 20 per cent.

Amey Wye Valley took over the contract in August 2007 and soon had to cover much of the £2m plus HJS was found to owe sub-contractors, suppliers and other creditors, a debt that caused considerable tension within the county’s business community.

In 2009 elements of the council’s two contracts with Amey – the other entered into after a company providing the council with technical services was taken over by Amey – were re-negotiated to form a single managing agent contract through which Amey Herefordshire would deliver highways, parks and public rights of way services plus a range of support services such as printing, catering and couriers.

In July last year, with the Amey contract coming to an end,  the council confirmed that  Balfour Beatty would be its new contractual partner.

The 10-year contract with Balfour Beatty, worth in the region of £200 million, covers highways maintenance, street lighting, traffic signals, street cleaning, parks and public rights of way, fleet maintenance and professional consultancy services.