Council forced to bridge the gap on inspection quality

Civic Offices
Civic Offices

THE council cannot confirm if any bridges in the city are safe to use.

An internal report published this week concluded that Milton Keynes Council ‘does not have sufficient evidence... that its bridge structures are safe’.

And a leading councillor has gone further by saying that the authority has been gambling with people’s lives.

The Internal Audit concluded that the council’s bridge stock had not in all instances been appropriately inspected and maintained.

It went on to say that the key failings result from a combination of ‘inadequate performance from the contractor’ Mouchel, and ‘inadequate contract management by Milton Keynes Council prior to the appointment of the Head of Highways in October 2010.

That was when the review was triggered after concerns were raised by a Mouchel whistleblower over the safety of bridges in Milton Keynes.

This week Councillor Sam Crooks, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, said the council can no longer gamble with people’s lives and called for a restructuring of the highways department.

He said: “The bridges were inspected and then no work was carried out as a result of the findings from those inspections. The highways department must be restructured.

“However, we must now look to the future and I think that must start with carrying out a thorough inspection on all bridges and actually acting on the findings.

“There is a real concern on falling masonry and whether or not the crash barriers, currently in place, will do their job when needed.

“People’s safety is the most important aspect to consider in all of this and we need to work out how we can work better with Mouchel to ensure this.”

He stopped short, however, of calling for the resignation of chief executive David Hill , saying the council’s top officer only came into his job in 2010 – years after the initial bridge problems.

MK Council has now committed hundreds of thousands of pounds towards repairing the bridges, but couldn’t put an exact figure on the sum.

As soon as concerns became apparent Mr Hill liaised with Mouchel to establish a joint working group to investigate the situation.

The group plan to commission and manage a programme of inspections on the bridges to provide assurances about their safety and rewrite Mouchel’s service level agreement in line with the council’s revised requirements.

These will then incorporate changes to the Code of Practice in the city.

A prioritised programme of inspections is now under way and is due to be completed by March of next year.

The service level agreement with Mouchel has been redrafted and the council is discussing any potential contractual issues with them.

However, Mr Crooks said the inspections should be carried out and completed much earlier.

He said: “We should be pushing forward with this, making public safety our number one priority and making sure all work is completed by the autumn of this year.”

Mr Hill said: “Because of the issues that have arisen, the council does not have as much assurance about the safety of bridge structures as it should have. This is unsatisfactory, hence our action.

“The backlog of principal inspections and major maintenance should be cleared by March 2013, and meanwhile the quality of the information available to the council about the safety of bridge structures in Milton Keynes continues to improve.”

> The report is available online at http://cmis.milton-keynes.gov.uk/CmisWebPublic/Binary.ashx?Document=34497 and is set to be discussed by the Audit Committee on Wednesday.