Oxfordshire CC has been forced to cut its street lighting service to deliver emergency support only, after a contractor implemented a break clause, raising safety concerns and potentially making some speed limits unenforceable.
The council’s ‘emergency interim arrangement’ could be in place for up to 18 months, although it has stressed that this is very much a worst case scenario and it hopes to resolve the situation ‘much sooner’.
Oxfordshire CC will only repair street lights on an emergency basis
Oxfordshire’s street lighting contract with Scottish & Southern Electrical (SSE) was due to run from 2008 until 2024 but contained a single break clause point at 1st April this year.
After negotiations on SSE’s request for increased rates broke down, the company activated the break clause, with effect from the beginning of this month.
According to a report put to the council’s cabinet, SSE’s demands included an increase of fifteen specific rates to current market levels, a 20% increase on all other rates and a revised performance framework.
The report, by Sue Scane, the council’s director for environment and economy, said that although officers had thought they were close to agreement with SSE, ultimately ‘SSEs requirements were unrealistic and not in the council’s interest to agree to’.
Ms Scane also told councillors that SSE’s demands were beyond the ability for the council to agree under EU procurement regulations.
Councillors were also told that, because illuminated speed limit signs would not be maintained, ‘Once illumination ceases to function speed limits will becomes (sic) unenforceable by Police’.
The emergency interim arrangements restrict council workers to just 'making dangerous situations safe' and were agreed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday night.
A spokesperson for the council told Transport Network: ‘We are working on developing a longer-term contract to minimise the interim period where the priority will be the emergency repairs. Eighteen months is very much a worst case scenario – we hope to have the situation resolved much sooner than that.
‘Clearly some streetlights will fail in the meantime but the vast majority won’t. So while this is obviously a far from ideal situation, disruption for Oxfordshire residents should be minimal.’
A spokesperson for SSE said: ‘Following a commercial review of the terms of the maintenance contract, SSE Enterprise Contracting reluctantly exercised its contractual right to terminate the contract and in doing so, provided Oxfordshire County Council 20 months notice to make alternative arrangements.’