Council’s £1m cuts plan for more road decline

Potholes are reappearing after the harsh winter.

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Argyll and Bute Council’s cost-saving budget plans a ‘managed condition decline’ in the region’s road network, risking ‘increased third party damage and injury claims from reducing road maintenance’.

According to proposals being considered by the full council today (Thursday February 22), as councillors face a £5m to £27m funding gap over the next three years, officers could combine roads and amenity services into a single team.

While BEAR Scotland manages Argyll and Bute’s trunk roads, the council’s roads department looks after 2,300km of other roads, pothole repairs, and the transport network during adverse weather.

Amenity services, meanwhile, looks after grass cutting, street sweeping, cemetery and war memorial maintenance, graffiti removal and environmental enforcement for dog fouling, litter and fly tipping.

While combining the departments would ‘retain specialisms within the different disciplines, it will reduce the number of technical staff in the area teams’. Changes to the staffing would save £240,000, while ‘the reduction in service delivery’ would save £790,000. The council says it will ‘have to reduce the services [it] provide[s] such as roads maintenance and winter maintenance’.

According to the officers’ analysis, the roads department’s reduced workforce and deteriorating roads could risk ‘increased complaints’, ‘structural failure/collapse of bridges and retaining walls’, increased disruption for traffic, and ‘a detrimental effect on the economy through business connectivity and tourism’.

More risks listed in the report include a ‘reduction in the frequency of grass cutting, litter picking and sweeping’, ‘untidy streets’, and a deterioration of the region’s 131 cemeteries.

The changes could also prioritise statutory requirements ‘over nice to have’ works which ‘will not be delivered’, and ‘significantly reduces ability for frontline teams resulting in inability to meet with elected members, community groups and the general public’.

A reduction in the workforce ‘will have an impact on service delivery and the services’ resilience and ability to respond to weather events and other emergencies’, and reduce their ‘ability to react to requests for unplanned works, focus[ing] only on programmed and scheduled works’.

A ‘deterioration to the condition of the roads network requiring a managed condition decline … may result in additional weight restrictions being introduced and an increased risk of disruption to the roads network’.

Changes could also cause an ‘increased risk to the economy due to roads infrastructure not being available. Particularly where alternative routes are not available or only available for certain vehicle types due to weight and/or size restrictions’. Reducing road maintenance also risks ‘increased third party damage and injury claims’.

The ‘appearance of the built environment’ could also deteriorate ‘through a reduction in the frequency of grass cutting, litter picking and sweeping’.

Meanwhile, Argyll and Bute’s MSP Michael Russell has suggested the council ‘dip into their reserves to establish a fund which can start to deal with the “emergency” of potholed roads and broken road surfaces which is damaging vehicles and has the potential to disrupt communities’.

Mr Russell said: ‘The bulk of the local roads are the council’s responsibility and I have received many complaints about those roads. Some, like the main – and only – road on Jura are in such a dreadful state that is leading to concerns from hauliers about the safety of using them. Others – like the A886 and the A8003, which I use on a regular basis – have patches where the surface has broken up and many potholes.

‘Drivers avoiding these can cause traffic accidents and essential workers, such as carers, are having delays and disruptions to the vital work they do because of damage to their vehicles.

‘Local road users must report these problems to the council whenever they experience them because only when a pothole has been reported and not acted on can individuals claim compensation for damage.

‘But it would be better if the council accepted that the current situation constitutes an emergency given the severe deterioration caused by adverse weather. They could then meet that emergency by dipping into their reserves and establishing a fund to take forward urgent repairs.

‘The council cannot simply go on saying that its current budgets are constrained. They have reserves and the reality is that such reserves are, in part, about putting aside resources for times when special circumstances require special measures. This is one of those times.’