Bolton goes potty over potholes! Council dispute FOI complaint figures

An FOI request has started a row between Bolton Council and the Federation of Small Businesses over figures claiming that the borough receives the highest number of pothole complaints in Greater Manchester. 

The FSB issued results of an FOI request under embargoe last week claiming that out of the ten local authorities that make up Greater Manchester, Bolton scored the highest for complaints about potholes with 13,915 moans made in 2013/14.

But, after being contacted by MM for a comment, Bolton Council claimed that these figures are incorrect and that the number of complaints for the timescale is 2,025 which only makes them the 6th worse in the region.

They claim a poorly worded FOI request as the reason for this discrepancy, stating that the figure of 13,915 actually refers to the total for any road damage, which can include faded road markings and damaged signs. 

A council spokesman said: “Like other towns and cities across the country, our roads have deteriorated due to a reduction in government grants and consecutive cold winters. 

“However, the figure quoted in this release is categorically incorrect and misrepresents Bolton.

“The figure of 13,195 actually relates to all types of road defects – not just potholes – and includes things like faded lines on roads, damaged signs and faulty lamps.”

The FSB claim that Bolton council are attempting to cover up the figures and say the wording of the FOI was clear.

The request sent asked ‘how many requests did you receive asking for potholes/damaged road surfaces to be repaired in 2013/14?’.

Bolton Council replied: “Total number of requests received associated with potholes / other highway defects repairs during 2013/14 was 13,915.”

But Robert Downes, development manager for the FSB, said: “It seems to me that Bolton has seen they are the worst, and don’t like it and will now say anything to deny the truth.

 “The FOI was quite clear and went in to further detail then they have described, covering both potholes and damaged road surfaces.”

Mr Downes also references other figures brought to light in the FOI request which show Bolton as having the highest number of successful claims for damages within the same period.

The research shows Bolton as paying out for 123 successful claims, costing the authority over £38,000.

Mr Downes said: “One council came close to this figure, but the rest had more like 60 successful claims.”

In Bolton’s case, Blackburn Road is identified as the worst road in terms of damaged road surface.

The FSB decided to submit the FOI requests in response to a poll from its members which asked in which areas they would like to see more investment locally.

Simon Edmondson, Regional Chairman for the FSB in Manchester & North Cheshire, said: “People in Bolton clearly aren’t happy with the roads, and with the extraordinary number of complaints the council there has received there can little doubt about it at the town hall either. 

“There is a serious point to this research though, and that’s our members, who pay significant amounts in business rates, expect the local roads to be of sound repair.

“The research we’ve done with business owners suggests many feel they aren’t getting value for money and want councils to spend a bit more of their cash on making roads of an acceptable standard.

“Most businesses rely in some way on roads to do business, whether it’s for their staff to get in to work or customers to come and spend with them. Having to navigate a minefield of potholes which can damage cars and also be hazardous for pedestrians doesn’t help anyone.”

Bolton Council said it would continue to invest in road maintenance despite Government cuts to spending.

A spokesman said: “We know that businesses and residents want more investment in the road network and when roads are deteriorating this does undoubtedly have an effect on the number of claims we get. 

“We actually spent £6.65 million of capital funding in 2013-14 on repairing roads and we are continuing to invest in improving our roads under difficult financial circumstances.”

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