Issue details

24/00034 - Decision to award contracts for Public Rights of Way Vegetation Clearance

Proposed decision:

To agree the re-procurement and the award of new contracts for Public Rights of Way (PRoW) vegetation clearance, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, for a further period of five years and an allowable extension of two years subject to performance; and, to delegate authority to the Director of Growth and Communities to take  other relevant actions, including, but not limited to finalising the terms of and entering into  required contracts or other legal agreements, as necessary to implement the decision. 

 

Reason for the decision:

The contracts to manage the vegetation on the PRoW network are due for renewal, with the previous contractual arrangements ending at the end of the 2024-5 financial year.

 

The proposed contracts would have a five-year term with the option to extend for a further two.

 

The annual spend on vegetation clearance on the PRoW network is approximately £400K. When considered over the five-year term of the contracts, and allowing for inflationary increases, the aggregate spend will exceed £2M. Given that the likely expenditure will exceed £1m a key decision is required to enable the procurement to proceed and, subject to successful procurement, to award contracts for the delivery of PRoW vegetation clearance work.  

 

Background:

The Public Rights of Way network in Kent extends to 6995Km. PRoW are public highways and approximately 99% of the network in Kent is maintainable at the public expense. Vegetation growing from the surface of the highway (other than crops) is the responsibility of the County Council to manage. Vegetation overgrowth is the single most reported issue on the PRoW network by the public.

 

The Asset Management Plan 2019 identified that the optimum length of vegetation clearance is 1758802m per annum, below which lengths of the network will be obstructed or unpleasant to use. The authority would fail to meet its statutory obligation to maintain the network.  The length cleared will vary reflecting the nature/ length of the growing season. Inevitably with a warmer climate we are experiencing longer growing seasons.

 

Failure to deliver the optimum level of service in the short term would simply defer the activity with substantially greater costs being incurred at a later date in order to recover the position. Ie the vegetation would still need to be cleared but the additional growth would take longer to clear and would require heavier machinery. 

 

Vegetation clearance ensures that the PRoW network (public highway) is available to the public, is safe and supports Kent’s economy, health and well-being. Obstruction of, or interruption to, access results in an associated loss in public benefit & economic impact on businesses reliant on visitors.

 

Preferred option:

The outcome of market engagement for vegetation clearance and preparation of the commercial case is a recommendation that the work be split into 10 lots with no individual supplier awarded more than three lots.  The recommended contract duration of 5-7 years allows the service providers sufficient certainty to invest in specialist equipment and their labour force. It is expected that this will encourage more local SMEs to bid.  The expectation, based on previous procurement, is that four contractors will deliver the contracts. The opportunity for businesses to tender for the work will be published on the Kent Business Portal.

 

Options (other options considered but discarded):

Do nothing: This is not an option. The County Council would not be delivering a minimum level of service to meet its statutory obligations. It would be at risk of third-party action to compel it to undertake the work and at risk of increased numbers of third party injury claims. The long terms costs of maintenance would be increased appreciably.

 

Single supplier contract:  Previous procurement rounds have failed to identify any single supplier that can deliver the levels of clearance required or compete on price other than through sub-contracting with significant implications for quality and reliability. Previous rounds of procurement have not identified a single supplier with the capacity to deliver the programme without sub-contracting much of the work,  adding significant risk to the County Council in terms of performance and delivery.

 

Multi supplier framework: The County Council would not be able to enter contracts of sufficient length that it would be financially and logistically fitting for suppliers. The use of similar frameworks for small works in the past has seen a rapid diminution in the contractors available through the framework.

 

In house: There are significant barriers to entry in terms of purchasing/ leasing the machinery required and recruiting, retaining and managing the scale of workforce required for what would be short term seasonal contracts.

 

How the proposed decision supports Framing Kent’s Future 2022-2026:

The procurement accords with the County Council’s Strategy “Framing Kent’s Future”:

i)        Levelling up Kent:  Priority 1: supporting ambitions to improve the health of Kent’s population particularly promoting healthy behaviours  Priority 1-4

ii)        Infrastructure for Communities,  Priority 2: 2 Invests in Kent’s high-quality landscapes.  6. Supports the choice of alternative travel options by prioritising the maintenance of accessible walking routes and cycle lanes

iii)       Environmental step change. Priority 3: Improve access for our residents to green and natural spaces especially in urban and deprived areas and through our Public Rights of Way network to improve health and wellbeing outcomes

 

How the proposed decision supports Securing Kent’s Future:

The procurement of vegetation clearance contracts seeks to secure best value in the delivery of what is a statutory function (the maintenance of the publicly maintainable highway). It seeks to deliver this work in the most efficient, economic and effective way, consistent with the prioritisation of the Council’s best value duty. In that respect it is consistent with, and supports, Securing Kent’s Future.

Decision type: Key

Reason Key: Expenditure or savings of more than £1m;

Decision status: For Determination

Division affected: (All Division);

Notice of proposed decision first published: 01/05/2024

Decision due: Not before 30th May 2024 by Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services
Reason: To allow 28 day notice period required under Executive Decision Regulations

Lead member: Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services

Lead director: Stephanie Holt-Castle

Department: Growth, Environment & Transport

Contact: Graham Rusling, Head of Public Rights of Way & Access Email: graham.rusling@kent.gov.uk Tel: 01622 696995.

Consultees

The Kent Public Rights of Way and Access Forum, an independent statutory consultative body comprising key stakeholders, has been consulted. The Forum made contributions in respect of the importance and need to maintain and control vegetation on the network and the specification to be adopted.

 

Extensive consultation was carried out in preparation for the Rights of Way Improvement Plan. The importance of the County Council maintaining the network to a standard that facilitates and encourages use was a point commonly made by respondents and is reflected in the adopted plan.

 

The opportunity for businesses to tender for the work will be published on the Kent Business Portal.

 

The proposed decision was considered and endorsed by members of the Growth, Economic Development and Communities Cabinet Committee at their meeting on 14 May.

Financial implications: The anticipated revenue spend over the five years of the contracts is £2.125M (£425K pa). Should the option to extend for a further two years be taken the anticipated spend would be £2.975M. The £425K pa figure is based on the anticipated spend in the coming financial year. Grounds Maintenance Index 87 (GM87) is used to apply increases reflecting inflation throughout the length of the contract. Over the course of the current contract this has seen the cost of the contracts increase by approximately 40%, in the main in response to fuel price increases and particularly the fuel price shock as a consequence Russia's invasion of Ukraine. With the exception of 2023 the annual inflation increase has generally been around 6% Annual uplifts will need to be built in to the MTFP and funded through the GET revenue allocation. If not funded they may only be met through reductions in the programme of vegetation clearance or diminution to maintenance programmes for public rights of way ge

Legal implications: The maintenance of the publicly maintainable highway is a duty of the County Council as the Highway Authority. (Highways Act 1980 s 41). Failure to undertake the work leaves PRoW obstructed and unusable. There is a risk, should this be the case, that the Council could face action under the Highways Act 1980 sec 56 & 130A which, if successful, would result in the Council being compelled to act. Failure to undertake the activity would also increase the risk of third-party injury claims.

Equalities implications: An Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) has been completed for the commission; Appendix C. The EqIA identified a number of potential positive impacts from the commissioning and procurement exercise relating to accessibility of the PRoW network for those with protected characteristics. Data Protection implications: An initial screening has been undertaken. There are no significant data implications for this activity and as a result a DPIA has not been completed.

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