The position of Scottish Road Works Commissioner – aka the “cone tsar” – has been an easy target for quango critics since the office was opened in 2005.
Today, it looks like a legitimate cause of discontent. Set up to help prevent the mismanagement of roadwords, the agency which costs £300,000 per annum to run, took no action against firms last year. Which begs the question: what is the point of it? Either there is no problem, or the office is not fit for purpose. Or we could be hopelessly generous and suggest that the office has been so effective that no-one dare fall foul of it.
Despite this record, the quango has been spared closure after a Scottish Government review – although there are a hefty 21 recommendations for improvements.
There is some reason for not being too glib about the office’s function. In 2013, BT was issued with the maximum fine of £50,000 for “serious failures” while Vodafone, Openreach and Scottish Power were fined in 2014. On this evidence, there is a genuine problem which the commissioner can tackle. But can we really believe there were no offenders in an entire year? And does this modest return justify its £3.3 million cost to date?
The answer to both questions is “no”. At a time of harsh cuts in public services, this office has not been value for money. And while weaknesses have been identified, it will inevitably require further investment to put them right.
The Scottish Government’s review should continue, by putting the quango on trial for the next year, after which a decision should be made on whether to keep it or scrap it.
Our transport network should be policed, but not at any cost.