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Portfolio Report of the Hon Mr Gavin Short, MLA (27/3)

Portfolio Report of the Hon Mr Gavin Short, MLA

Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, as is normal I would like to start with a brief gallop around the Public Works Department keeping some headline issues that happened over the past few weeks before concentrating on one section. And I do apologise if this is a slightly long report Mr Speaker. If I do stray outside your time-span and your very kind timepiece chimes, I will try and finish it in the Motion for Adjournment.

The Water Section have had a pretty torrid time of it lately with three mains leaks being detected, found and repaired over the last couple of weeks. I would like to thank Craig and his staff and all the others who have been involved in that. They put in some pretty long hours in some pretty unpleasant weather finding and repairing those leaks.

Staffing in the section has improved but has only now been short of an operator in the filtration plant itself and the adverts may have already gone out for that position. If not it will be happening very shortly.

The Power Section also had to attend to a problem around Cable 4 found a week or two ago on John Street, around the area where Jensens cottage used to be. Again, they dealt with this quickly and did their very best to keep the disruption to consumers to an absolute minimum  all this at a time when they are stretched on other projects such as the MPA Wind Farm.

I am happy to report that the new primary crusher at Ponys Pass has been fired up and fed and performed wonderfully well. That takes away one area where I was extremely nervous about. As with many things in the Falklands, we were only one deep and if the primary crusher had failed at any stage we would have been in a very unhappy place. We have a couple of very large orders recently but the Quarry continues to work steadily to fulfil these orders and also to maintain stockpiles which will give us a slight buffer when we get more large orders for stone in future as I am sure we will. There will be further equipment on the way for the quarry and I will report on that further in another report.

We actually took the opportunity with the core drilling rig being down here for the Noble Port to borrow the thing and use it off the end of the Public Jetty to have a look at the seabed there and also at the quarry at Port Heriot. There is some very good material there but we didnt know how much weve got. We will be analysing those cores and it will give us a better idea about what resource we have. We are also, I believe, using the rig at Bunford and looking at the material out there for burrow pits for the roads out on that side of East Falkland.

Together with MLA Rendell I just returned from a couple of days on the West taking a look at some of the roads out there. This follows on from a similar exercise on the East. Obviously I would like to thank everyone who were so hospitable to us on our visits and taking time to talk to us and to let us know how they see things. The person who deserves special mention is our assistant Roads Engineer, Sabastian Reid, who uncomplainingly chauffeured us around both East and West and had to contend with many questions and the like. I have never met anyone who can get so excited about burrow pits and material types. He also told it to us like it is and I for one am very grateful for that. I also got the impression that people on East and West appreciated seeing someone from the Roads Section taking the time to talk in depth with them and listen to their points of view.

The Wreck Point Causeway re-build has been completed and from the photographs that I was shown yesterday it actually looks to be an extremely good job of work. I also believe that drainage works were also carried out at the swamp close to the causeway, which should also help greatly.

We should start work next week on the track to the alternative water supply. Work will be started this Friday in blacktopping the road to the old butchery housing. There have been a few delays on that but the paver has been in action on Sapper Hill, St Marys Car-park and doing patch repairs in other areas during this time so production and the paver have been in action and not sitting around doing nothing and waiting.

I would like to publicly thank the Paver and Production Plant Crews, truck drivers and indeed everyone else involved in this seasons asphalt programme. There were times when we approached this years laying season that it looked as if it may not happen at all as we were probably one resignation away from everything coming to a shuddering halt. We actually did have a heart-stopping moment very, very close to the beginning of the season when one of our main players went crook and thankfully we were able to find a store person from outside the Islands and bring them in. It is costly having such an experienced person here but it means that we can get stores transfer to our own folk, which, of course, can only be good.

We have, I believe, just recruited a Cemetery Caretaker and I would like to welcome Ron Campos back into the PWD family. And I know that the cemeteries both here in Stanley and also the Camp cemeteries and War Memorials which FIG are taking responsibility for will be in good hands.

Winter as always has brought reports of street lighting being out. I would plead with people who have spotted a non-functioning street lamp to report it either directly to the Power Station or preferably to the young ladies in the PWD general office on 27193. What I am asking you not to do please is head get on face-book and have a rant about lights being out. You need to tell the folk who need to know. Even though I admit that a good rant is fun and I have been known myself to enjoy the occasional grumble from time to time. I do realise that 27193 is office hours only and if you think that you may forget by the next day or a Monday, then by all means give me a call on 51075 or e-mail me or message me on face-book and I will be more than happy to make sure to report it. We are short-staffed and I know the Power Station boys are trying their best to get the ones sorted out that have been reported.

Now, if you head down the By-Pass Road towards Stanley Airport, you will see at Megabid a very large shed. This is the home of the Municipal Section who used to live in the dockyard before they moved out of town to make way for the Museum. In this Department lives a whole host of services and skills from carpentry to housing to funeral services to the control of contracts such as cleaning and grass cutting and engineering on projects plus planning and maintenance of FIG Assets both through direct labour and contracted companies and staff. The Section also looks after the much loved sewerage system in Stanley. As well as general repairs to sewers and a whole raft of miscellaneous jobs that all help to keep things running here in town. Such is the head-count for the Municipal and Housing is 26 and thats divided as follows: Management 11, 6 carpenters, one in the Plumbers Shop and 4 in Housing.

Municipal and in particular the Carpenters Shop has been affected by staff shortages since October 2012. Normally there are 5 carpenters and one skilled handyman and 2 full-time apprentices. But for the majority of 2013 we have only had two carpenters and one apprentice. This has resulted in numerous planned works being delayed or postponed as we were required to deal with reactive works only.

Municipal also suffered shortages in staff and at one point we were down a total of eight staff including shortages in the carpenters shop that I alluded to earlier.

The majority of resignations, I believe, came as a direct result of pay levels in the private sector compared to that of FIG and the demand for tradesmen and skilled and semi-skilled handymen from the private sector. We just could not compete.

Despite staff shortages the Municipal Services continue to provide a better than expected service and some staff have continued to work over and above what is expected including working weekends and evenings to meet the demands placed on us by Housing, for example. They also continue to provide an excellent funeral service which can often be difficult in such a small place.

Camp funerals are becoming more common and despite the additional works involved in providing that service we always try to accommodate the wishes of the deceaseds family.

Recruitment has improved on the Municipal side with only one vacancy to fill. However, we are still 3 short in the Carpenters Shop which will continue to adversely affect our ability. But it is hoped that a new recruitment drive will begin this week  I think it already has and we hope this will encourage new blood to join us in our organisation.

Like a lot of departments, the work of this Department indeed goes largely unnoticed and uncommented upon until something starts to go wrong.. And a lot of what we run is highly visible, such as the grass cutting contract.

The contracts and the amounts were printed in the Penguin news and are public knowledge. Even before the season kicked off there were problems. For one reason or another, the contracts were late in being let and grass managed to get a head start. Further difficulties followed and there were adjustments made to the contracts during the season, which did make things run a bit better. But to be honest we were playing catch-up all the way through the season in certain areas.

Another area to cause some angst was that of the spraying of grass and weeds and the dreaded thistles alongside properties and the joints of roads and pavements. Normally the spraying was done in-house but due to staff shortages and illness we could not deliver. And it was only very late in the day when the work was contracted out.

I am happy to inform the House that Stanley Growers have done all of East Stanley over the last couple of weeks and are about to do the rest of the vegetation in joints in the centre and the west of Stanley and then go back and clean off what has been sprayed at the east end. I am happy to inform the House that Stanley Growers have done all of East Stanley over the last couple of weeks and are about to do the rest of the vegetation in joints in the centre and the west of Stanley and then go back and clean off what has been sprayed at the east end.

Turning to the subject of grass, the main areas that we know we are behind on in terms of not having done them at all this season yet are the top of Philomel Hill, Dairy Paddock Road and Dean Street and of course the bank in front of the Town hall. And we have indeed urged our contractor who has responsibility for those areas to leap into action. Indeed they might even have started. There are some other areas that need cutting again and the works orders for those are being sorted now. Growth has slowed down and this will hopefully help us finally catch up.

With the thistles the plan is to do something like a litter pick to remove the plants and bag them. And then burn them to try and reduce seed spread from this years crop which should commence shortly.

Two weeks ago I actually walked every street in town so that I could see for myself just what the picture was and to be honest, every road outside the centre of Stanley required attention in one form or another.

As far as the grass went along those roads, I did form the opinion that with a few guys and a good run of weather you could probably blitz the whole town in about a week.

It would be improper of me to comment or indeed enter into discussion about the merits of one contractor over another but what I will say is this: After the season ends there is always a review done as to how the season went and what if any changes need to be made with the new season coming. I will require assurances that next season will not be the same as this one and that whatever changes that are required are made to make sure that those who hold the contracts have the equipment, the staff and whatever else is needed to be able to deliver on their contractual obligations.

I fully accept that we cannot control the weather or major breakdowns but there has to be resilience both in matters of machinery and staff, for example. The same goes for the spraying. I will need to be reassured that this coming season it will be done in a timely manner both in-house or by a contractor.


The Debate:

There was no debate on The Hon Mr Gavin Short, MLAs report.

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