Sunday, 25 July 2010

It costs £3600 and takes 11 people to paint 40 feet of yellow line

Did you know that it costs Cornwall Council more than £3600 and takes 11 people just to paint 40 feet of yellow line?

That's the price that has been quoted to me to erase the parking spots outside the old Newport Post Office - and thereby ensure smooth flowing traffic on the main road through Launceston at rush hours. Whilst the parking spots were essential when the post office was still open, it has been shut for almost two years and local drivers know that just one car parking (quite legally) can bring all local traffic to a halt.

So I asked the council to get rid of the parking places and to paint yellow lines on the road. No problem, they said. And then the bureaucracy began:

Steps to erase parking spots and paint yellow lines outside old Newport Post Office
1. Request from councillor

2. Scheme added to programme of works and assigned to designer

3. Designer gathers relevant information about the site e.g Traffic Order details etc. Regional Engineer contacted to gather any additional information and to discuss request.
4. Designer visits site to obtain measurements, photographs, information to calculate works cost and makes notes
of any other issues that may affect the requested scheme.
5. Designer then produces an initial scheme assessment report with a recommendation which is submitted to a panel of Senior Engineers for approval.
6. If the scheme is approved then the designer puts together a consultation package consisting of – newspaper notice, draft order, site notice, consultation drawing, statement of reasons and consultation letter.

7. 21 day public consultation - Notice placed in newspaper, site notices erected on site and extents of proposal marked on carriageway, scheme goes live on web-based consultation system, consultation letters sent to parish council etc.

8. Following consultation a report is produced summarising the responses. Designer liaises with Councillor regarding responses to see if they still wished to proceed with the scheme. Consultation report submitted for approval to Senior Engineers with a recommendation. If scheme is approved to proceed then responses sent to those people who commented during consultation.
9. Works package prepared and issued to contractor

10. When scheme has been built works are checked on site, Order is sealed, notice placed in newspaper with operational date of Order, legal documents sent to relevant people (police etc). Order details added to map based system (Parkmap).

In fairness to Cornwall Council, some of the steps outlined above are legal requirements. But it is still a hugely bureaucratic process which involves eleven different individuals:
1. Designer
2. Team Leader
3. Regional Engineer
4. Area Highway Manager
5. Admin support within the Highway Design Group
6 & 7. Parkmap team within the Highway Design Group to check Order/works and add details onto map based system.
8 & 9. Parking Manager and staff from his team
10. Works Co-ordinator
11. Bloke with a can of yellow paint and a brush

And the costs - a minimum of £3600. Which is justified as follows:
Stages 1-5 cost £800 in staff time
Stages 6-8 cost £1500 (£950 staff time plus £550 newspaper notice)
Stages 9 and 10 cost £1300 (£750 staff time plus £550 newspaper notice
plus the cost of the works themselves - in this case the paint and the scrubber to erase the parking lines.

Each Cornwall councillor gets a notional budget of £8000 this year to spend on highways projects. But how can I justify using almost half of my annual budget on such a small job. Bear in mind that more than two thirds of the cost is actually on council staff time. With the officers already employed and with them being paid regardless of whether I set this in motion or not, these costs are strictly notional. And while the newspaper adverts are required by law, why do they need to cost £550 each?

I have been told by colleagues that it is possible to combine more than one TRO into a single order. But the officer who produced these costings for me cautioned against this as if one scheme receives lots of objections then it will delay all of the others in the package or even cause them to be abandoned.

I've talked to other councillors and officers from around the country about this and have found that the cost varies hugely in different authorities. Some charge as little as £800 for a single TRO.

On Tuesday, I'll be raising the issue with the Cabinet Member for Highways at the full council meeting. I'll also be writing to the Government to say that if they are serious about helping councils to cut budgets then one of the better things they could do is to do away with the need for some of the pointless bureaucracy involved in simple processes such as this.


MR PJ said...

That is quite unbelievable. This has parallels with the way Councils operate with schools and it's no wonder that so many schools are thinking of becoming Academies to reduce the needless cost whenever they want to do something such as minor building repair's.

Makes you think of Stephen Rimmer who got fed up waiting for the Council to repair benches and instead did it himself.

Eleanor said...

No wonder this country is in such a mess!!

Why can't they just do the right thing and get the job done in a day with minimal cost and bureaucracy - just as a private company would do!!