Audit uncovers ‘big gap’ in council’s bridge plans

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STEPS are already under way to ensure the council avoids future embarrassment when it comes to bridge repairs in Milton Keynes – but it knows more has to be done to prevent problems in other areas too.

After two reports damned the council’s general bridge inspections and the handing of the repairs to Secklow Gate bridge, the audit committee found fundamental flaws in the way the problems were handled.

Councillor Brian White, chairman of the audit committee believes the council must make fundamental changes to the way it operates to avoid further problems in the future.

He likened the handling of the Secklow Gate bridge to the PR disaster at Giles Brook School. The school in Tattenhoe opened in August 2003 but was unfinished and unsafe, forcing the council to build temporary classrooms until the school was completed 15 months later.

“There needs to be a complete change in culture,” Mr White said. “The reports released last week show that there were big gaps in the way the council deals with problems such as these.

“There needs to be a thorough look into contingency planning in all areas. We cannot afford to wait for another problem to arise before putting plans in place to fix them. We cannot afford to have another public fallout like we’ve seen here and had with Giles Brook School. After our findings back then, we haven’t had to deal with a problem with schools again, because we put plans in place to prevent these sorts of things happening.

“We hope we never have to deal with incidents like those again and hope that our findings make significant changes.”

Council chief executive David Hill said the council must act swiftly to regain the confidence of the public after the ordeal but said it had learned from its mistakes and had already put wheels in motion to rectify them.

Mr Hill said: “The members of the council’s audit committee gave detailed and prolonged consideration to all the issues raised by the internal audit report and external investigation.

“I had the opportunity to brief the committee on the practical steps that have been taken in recent months to improve the operation of the bridge management service.

“These included, in particular, the launch last year of a programme of ‘principal’ bridge inspections and associated follow up work, so that we can all have growing confidence in the safety of Milton Keynes bridges. That programme is due to be completed by March 2013.

“Nevertheless, the reports clearly demonstrated a need for improvement in many areas. The audit committee agreed a comprehensive range of recommendations.

“Council officers and our partners, Mouchel, with be working hard to implement those recommendations and will make regular progress reports to the committee.

“I am keen to rebuild public confidence in the council’s capacity to deliver good quality services and manage its contractual relationships effectively and I’m determined to demonstrate that quickly.”