Road repairs, grass cutting and other highways maintenance in West Sussex could soon be carried out by as many as 18 companies rather than just one.
The county council’s current contract with Balfour Beatty ends in March 2020 and it hopes to have awarded new ones by the end of the year.
Balfour Beatty has dealt with all work under the highways maintenance contract for the past eight years but the council now plans to split the workload into six ‘lots’, each containing three contracts.
At a meeting of the environment, communities and fire select committee on Thursday, members were told that the six lots would be put out to tender in the summer.
It would still be possible for one company to apply for all 18 contracts but officers pointed out that dividing the work would improve quality, reduce costs and provide more flexibility.
One concern raised by committee members was who would decide which firms would receive the contracts, and the amount of input from chief executive Nathan Elvery.
Their cautiousness was understandable.
In early 2018, the council was ready to hand a new single contract to Ringway Infrastructure Services Ltd following what was described as ‘a successful procurement process’.
But a High Court challenge from rival bidder Amey brought the process to a grinding halt and led to Balfour Beatty being given an interim contract while the challenge was met.
Nigel Jupp (Con, Southwater & Nuthurst) asked: “Bearing in mind the sensitivities over the procurement last year, where in this procedure is the chief executive?
“Will he get sight of the proposals and will he be recommending them to the council?”
Unhappy with the response that Mr Elvery would delegate the process to his executives, with the final decision being made via the cabinet member, Mr Jupp said: “Bearing in mind the problems that we have encountered, which are still not yet resolved, I would imagine that the chief executive would be taking a very keen interest in this one, just as members will.
“I would like to be reassured that it wasn’t all being delegated down to a number of people who dealt with the previous one.”
Roger Oakley (Con, Worthing East) also asked for assurances that there would be a ‘clear audit trail of responsibility’ showing who had made what decision.
The committee agreed the splitting of the contract was ‘appropriate’ but committee chairman Andrew Barrett-Miles said he would write to Mr Elvery ‘to understand his involvement in the process’.
Some of the contracts will be for five years, with the possibility of extending to ten, while others will be for four years.
The six lots are worth a total of £20,050,000.