Bad contractors or bad contracts

"As Victorian Councils prepare for a new round of contracts to cover road maintenance services, it is a good time to review the effectiveness of previous contracts," said David Madden, Director of Technical Operations at Golden Plains Shire.

He said that in assessing the quality of the service, there is a tendency to blame contractors for poor outcomes. However, this may be unfair. The issue arises as to whether the contractor is to blame or whether the contract itself was inadequate.

"Vicroads has developed intervention levels for all types of road maintenance activities," he said. "Local Government is generally using the same intervention levels. Therefore, we have a common intervention level across Victoria."

"At Golden Plains, the issue we were not comfortable with in developing our contracts was that it appeared as though contractors were using this intervention level as a new pseudo minimum standard. With most contract periods from three to five years, the best you could hope for, once intervention levels had been reached, was a job that was going to last a maximum of five years."

In the past, work was designed to a high standard which would last many years rather than simply bringing a piece of road up to just above intervention level standard. David Madden said that a means of avoiding this problem is to set the standards and outcome separately from the intervention level.

To achieve the standard of work required at Golden Plains, Australian Road Research Board standards were used to describe the outcomes desired for each item of work within the specification used. Therefore, the standard required was indicated over and above intervention levels.

"By including a requirement for a quality plan as part of the tender documents, we could then score the work method sheets for each procedure, measured against the ARRB outcomes we required," David said.

This contract system has been highly satisfactory at Golden Plains due to the setting of appropriate standards at the tendering point. These contract specifications are now available for sale.

For further information contact David Madden, telephone (03) 5281 1202.