ONLY a handful of bids were received from companies keen to take on three major contracts for highways maintenance services in West Sussex.

The services – such as pothole repairs, grass cutting and general maintenance – are currently provided by Balfour Beatty but the contract ends in March.

The council chose to split the work into six “lots” but, while there were more than 70 expressions of interest, only five bids were made for the main three.

Two bids were put in for the core maintenance contract, two for drainage cleansing, and only one for hedge maintenance and grass cutting.

Matt Davey, director of highways and transport, told a scrutiny committee meeting officers were “disappointed” with the low response. But he added that interest in the last three lots had been “much better” with a “range of high quality bids”.

Committee members asked what assurances West Sussex residents would have that the council was producing the most sustainable contracts for the highest quality of service.

Mr Davey assured them: “If we had felt at any point that there was not the sufficient quality of bid for us to be able to award, then we would be looking at going through this process again. However, that’s not been the case. In each of those lots we’ve been able to give ourselves an assurance that we have bidders who are fully capable of delivering a high-quality service for the county council.”

Project manager Peter Smith said one of the reasons the maintenance contract had been divided into six lots was to try to attract interest from smaller local companies. He acknowledged they may have found the tendering process too ominous.

It was agreed that, once the contracts had been awarded in early December, the council would contact everyone who had expressed an interest to find out why they had decided not to go ahead with a bid.

The six lots are worth a total of £20,050,000, with some of the contracts running for five years, with the possibility of extending to ten, while others will be for four years.

Highways maintenance has been a bumpy ride for the council. In 2018, it was ready to offer the contract to Ringway Infrastructure Services before a High Court challenge from rival bidder Amey brought the process to a halt. Balfour Beatty was given an interim contract while the legal battle was fought.

Project manager Peter Smith said it “wouldn’t be appropriate” to say whether any of the latest bidders were sub-contractors of Balfour Beatty.