The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star because highways throughout the country have built up a backlog of maintenance work over several years and are only now beginning to catch up. However, there has been a fall in the number of people afraid of going out after dark, following a major programme of street lighting renewal.
'There is a commitment throughout the council to improving services, and staff at all levels feel that their initiatives are encouraged and supported. Funding has been increased for lighting and highways projects, there is good IT support and an excellent staff training programme.
'The council now needs to link what the service does more clearly to its overall aims, and explore possible alternative ways of delivering the service. It can then be sure that the present arrangements offer the best value for money.'
The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:
* The service makes a real effort to inform residents about highways and lighting, although it could involve them more fully in decision-making.
* Continuous improvement groups within engineering services work on departmental and corporate problems, and their ideas have saved the council time and money.
* The service has transformed many working practices through innovations such as the 'find and fix' gang, and have introduced a robust inspection regime, directing resources towards areas of greatest risk.
However, inspectors also found weaknesses:
* Although the council does try to monitor residents' opinions, it could make more effort to involve stakeholder groups such as transport operators and disabled people.
* The maintenance service is not always consulted about the future maintenance implications of capital projects and no provision is made for future funding implications, so it cannot control future costs
* In practice, the service gives a lower priority to forms of transport such as walking and cycling than the council's aims suggest.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
* Ensure the service's aims are clearly linked to the council's corporate aims and set out how the service is going to contribute to improving Tameside.
* Design ground rules for deciding whether work will be done in-house or externally. Continually assess and monitor factors such as value for money, reliability, safety and customer satisfaction.
* Set more challenging targets for customer service, and work more closely with the public, including minority groups, to keep them informed and involve them more fully in how the service is delivered.
The highways maintenance and street lighting services include winter gritting, dealing with abandoned vehicles and maintaining road signs and bollards, as well as road repairs and resurfacing.
The service, which is delivered by in-house teams, is estimated to have cost£6.4m in 2001/02.