Her decision, following a far from transparent tendering process, was justified by claiming hypothetical savings over bids from consortia of councils. This begs the question, ignoring the fact the minister need not have retendered the contracts, whatever happened to integrated transport? It makes people wonder if the Scottish Executive understands, let alone adheres to, best value.
Despite constant requests by the councils for information about the tender assessment model, the Scottish Executive was unwilling to provide it. Yet gritting, ditching, patching, resurfacing and signing are all dealt with by the councils who have managed the trunk road and motorway contracts for the past five years.
When the tendering process was challenged in the courts, Lord McFadyen dismissed the challenge on a time bar, but stated the councils had a prima facie case on the way in which the base quantities were used in the evaluation.
Few members of the public are aware that trunk roads are managed by central government. Local authorities are the point of contact. There is a seamless management of the network, particularly important for winter maintenance.
Most councils deal with thousands of trunk road complaints each year, whether lighting, potholes, accidents or breakdowns. Will the new contractors be geared up to provide this level of accountability? Was it in the tendering process?
Councils will be left with hundreds of gritting lorries, surplus depots and up to 2,000 staff no longer required for trunk road work. Meanwhile, the successful bidders have ordered 200 new gritting lorries and advertised new posts. Who pays for this duplication? It would appear many of these factors never entered the equation.
How was this allowed to happen? The existing motorway and trunk road contracts were reconfigured into four areas during the inter regnum between the Scottish Office and the creation of the Scottish Executive in 1999. There was no scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament. Retendering was slipped out over the Christmas holidays at the turn of the millennium by civil servants who seemed hell bent on a tendering process that failed to take the full costs into account.
It has resulted in the most undignified schism between the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament. By the time the transport committee of the Scottish Parliament examines the process, Scotland will have created a two-tier road network with the costs of local road maintenance significantly increased because of the loss of economies of scale. Moreover, emerging partnerships between councils and private contractors have been undermined by the decision.
It will lead to DLO losses, reduced maintenance schedules for local roads and a reduced capacity to cope with emergencies such as flooding and major accidents.
Amen to joined-up government and best value.
-Keith Yates, chief executive, Stirling Council.