Havering Council’s highways service has apologised for its huge backlog of road repairs following a department restructure that saw a number of staff leave.
At a meeting on Thursday May 13, purportedly debating if the council should stay with its current contractor, councillors instead aired grievances with the council’s own road repair service.
Contractor Marlborough Surfacing Limited, which normally only “picks up the slack” for the council’s maintenance team, is now doing the majority of repair works around the borough.
Opposition leader Cllr Ray Morgon (Residents’ Group, Hacton) pointed out delays in the council’s service had left some repairs undone for months or even since 2020.
Interim director of public realm Nicolina Cooper conceded “there are performance issues” in the department, which has not returned to normal staff levels since the restructure cut its spending by £80,000.
She told councillors: “A lot of work has gone on and will continue to because the service does need to change drastically. I can only apologise on behalf of the service.
“We are struggling in terms of reactive maintenance but that’s one area of a frankly much larger highways department. We had staff shielding and off-sick and the backlog just built and built.
“The plan is, we are actually going to start to hand over anything over seven days to Marlborough until we get the staff numbers up to where we need them.
“In the last twelve months I have seen the department completely transform and hopefully members can appreciate that… we are working really hard to improve.”
Asked why staff had left, she admitted some had been “downgraded” to lower wages, while others “chose to go to other boroughs” despite being offered more senior roles at Havering.
Cllr Morgon warned: “We may have to look at our own terms and conditions to retain staff. We have also had a problem attracting very senior people to this organisation.”
The meeting was held because six councillors from multiple parties “called in” a decision by the leadership, made in April, to extend Marlborough’s contract for another two years.
However, there were few concerns about Marlborough’s performance, with officers explaining that any delays in repairs were more often due to the council’s service or external factors.
Barry Francis, director of neighbourhoods, said: “Officers have been satisfied with (its) level of work… They employ local people, buy from local businesses and invest very much back into our community.”
It is estimated that the cost of extending Marlborough’s contract for another two years, until 2024, will be £25 million.
Following the discussion, the majority of councillors voted to confirm the original decision to extend the contract.