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Caithness News Bulletins January 2005

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28 January 05
COUNCIL DECIDE NOT TO BID FOR TRUNK ROAD CONTRACT

Highland Councillors have decided not to bid for the contract for the management and maintenance of the North West Trunk Road Network, which is being renewed by the Scottish Executive in April next year.

Members of the Transport Environmental and Community Services Committee concluded that the Council ran too high a risk of making a significant annual loss on the five-year contract and that they should instead seek sub-contracting work from the successful consortium.

They agreed to make Members of the Scottish Parliament aware of the deficiencies they perceive in the existing contract, which was awarded to BEAR Scotland in 2001.

And they are to highlight to Scottish Executive officials ways of improving and extending the specification of the contract, which they believe falls well short of public expectation.

Committee Chairman Councillor Charlie King said it was not fair to compare the service the Council formerly provided on trunk roads to that currently provided by BEAR Scotland. And he conceded that, given the restrictions contained in the contract, the Council could not have performed any better than BEAR.

He said: "I am aware of increasing criticism of the level of maintenance on the trunk road network in our area. However, the trouble is that there is simply not enough money in the contract to allow BEAR to do what the public expects. The Executive said they could save 25 million per year through the new contract. So the conclusion is that you get what you pay for.

"Our Service has changed significantly since the days when we provided an agency service on trunk roads and we also cannot afford to run the risk of losing up substantial sums on the contract. So we will not be bidding for the contract. We will, however, be interested in bidding for sub-contracting work and trying to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort that sometimes exists in our area."

HIGHLAND MSP WRITES TO TRANSPORT MINISTER OVER ROADS CONTRACT
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has written to Transport Minister Nicol Stephen over the contract for trunk road maintenance and winter road clearance, which is due to go out for tender in April, 2006.

Mrs Macmillan commented, "Since taking over trunk road maintenance in 2001 the operations of BEAR Scotland in the Highlands has attracted repeated criticism, regarding both the quality of winter road clearance and summer maintenance of verges and roundabouts. I believe all Highland MSPs have received repeated complaints regarding BEAR and I have, over the duration of their contract, met several times with both BEAR's staff and Executive officials to try and resolve matters. It is obvious that all of the problems surrounding BEAR's operations relate to the terms of the original contract and what the company was specifically contracted to do or not to do.

When the new contract is put out to tender it is vital that the inadequacies in the specification and areas where improved service are required are positively addressed. The trunk roads network in the Highlands is vitally important and also subject to some of the worst weather in the UK. I asked the Minister to ensure that a comprehensive review of the detailed specification is carried out to ensure that any new contract fully reflects the requirements of our communities and road users."

Mrs Macmillan added, "In many ways BEAR Scotland was performing within the specification of their contract and the problem has been that this specification was not robust enough rather than BEAR not fulfilling their responsibilities. I trust the new contract will effect.