Ministry for Traffic, Health & Safety and Technical Services
Budget Speech 2012
TECHNICAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT
Mr Speaker, I remember that first, accompanied walk towards my Ministerial office at Joshua Hassan House from No 6 Convent Place, on the 12th December after the last General Election. Here, I sat, still engulfed in awe at the whole situation, with the relevant heads of department, to be briefed on the various Ministries that I would become responsible for. I remember clearly the dichotomy of feeling that came through, the sombre and yet hopeful and expecting underlying vibes, that things would be very different from then on. The same rang true throughout the different departments, where it became clear that the senior staff had had very little involvement in decision making, their professional opinions had generally not been consulted, their morale was low and they felt that they had been made to become unimportant. Staff complements within Technical Services had been depleted to low levels as the vast majority of all, then Government Projects where at the control of No 6. Most works had been outsourced, regardless of cost and regardless of the potential savings that could have been achieved by using the skilled and professional staff that existed within this technical department. Instead, they had been left, almost forgotten by the previous administration. It is the intention of this Government to change this, and staff are now finding themselves leading in various projects and although, hard-worked, they genuinely appear happy to be of value.
Mr Speaker, the actual inherited staff complement in Technical Services reflects a total of 8 vacancies that remain unfilled, 7 of which are senior, middle and junior technical grades and essential if this Department can be expected to run efficiently once again. This reflects staff compliments 15% less of the approved non-industrial compliment. Naturally, the department had been working in certain areas and during the previous Financial Year, the Department had been involved in a number of projects including coastal protection and rock fall protection as well as works in relation to their defined responsibilities such as highway maintenance.
Mr Speaker, this coming year, Technical Services has been tasked with developing and delivering various manifesto commitments involving coastal works projects, such as the beach protection works at Sandy Bay and Catalan Bay as well as improvement works at Camp Bay and Rosia Bay. All of these are aimed at improving the condition of the beaches and bathing facilities as they currently suffer the detrimental effects of storms. It is clearly evident, as it should have been then, that without these works, maintaining sand on our beaches is simply not possible. The loss of sand, as to be expected, the dredging of which, was evidently carried out in a rushed manner and without adequate beach protection measures. Surely, this was simply a last minute measure to ensure that bathers could at least bathe, in the summer preceding an all important General Election, regardless of whether the sand would remain, as in the case of Sandy Bay, or engulf its users in plumes of dirty dust resembling that of a building site, as is presently the case in Catalan Bay.
Mr Speaker, it will fall on this Government to put these things right, and works to correct all these deficiencies will commence within the next Financial Year.
Technical Services have already started work to construct an area of reclaimed land adjacent to Western Beach, which will presently serve as a car park for beach goers.
The slipway providing leisure access to the sea for small watercraft is being temporarily relocated for this bathing season, and presently, facilities are being looked into in order to provide a permanent slipway for next year’s bathing season, so that the community may gain access to this natural leisure resource.
Turning now to cliff stabilisation and rock fall protection projects, during the coming year, works will be carried out to areas affected by rock falls as part of the
Government’s cliff stabilisation and rock-fall protection programme. The clearing of the rock fall protection bund at William’s Way will be the main project for the year.
The area in question suffered a major rock-fall and landslide a few years ago, and even though the bund did its job at the time, it now needs to be cleared to fully restore the retention capacity of this protection measure. The highways maintenance programme has proceeded with on-going repairs to roads, footpaths and retaining walls. The Department balances the need to maintain the road network against allowing vehicles to circulate, with works to critical areas being undertaken during weekends and public holidays in order to minimise inconvenience to the public. Road closures for works are avoided during peak times wherever possible, and after hours and weekend work is the default condition imposed on contractors.
The new road maintenance programme has already started with the most recent works being the resurfacing of sections of Prince Edward’s Road and Rosia Road, both of which were badly deteriorated, as well as a stretch of Windmill Hill Road along what is a tourist entry route just before it reaches the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. Other areas will follow during the year.
Funding is being provided for the purchase of equipment that will expand the ability for maintenance works to trenches, potholes and so on, to be carried out after hours using hot asphalt. At present, this material has to be imported from Spain and as it is temperature dependent, its use late in the day to avoid disruption of traffic is restricted, by the working hours for commercial importation on the Spanish side.
Technical Services prepares a highway maintenance programme working within its yearly budgetary allocation but the general state of repair, or should I say disrepair, of our existing roads needs to be addressed. This requires significant investment, which has been lacking for a good number of years. In fact, it can safely be said that our roads are suffering from years of neglect. It is the intention of this Government to accelerate the annual planned works on our roads. To this end, a comprehensive resurfacing programme is being prepared with the aim of fully tackling the condition of many of our major roads over the next three years.
Mr Speaker, work has already started on identifying a solution to the longstanding problem of loss of sand from between the paving stone joints along Main Street and other pedestrianized areas in town such as Irish Town. Not only is this a source of complaint from the public, and a potential source of accidents especially for users of high-heeled shoes, but it also leads to the silting up of drains and sewers, which is where the sand eventually ends up in. Once a satisfactory solution is identified, works will begin to permanently address the situation as per our manifesto commitment.
Moving onto sewers, immediately upon coming into office, the Government was faced with a problem involving the collapse of a section of the main sewer along Line
Wall Road, which caused a blockage and raw sewage overflows into harbour waters.
I remember visiting the area the following day after the elections with my colleague the Honourable John Cortes. Technical Services’ Sewers Infrastructure Section worked tirelessly to resolve the immediate problem to clear the blockage and restore flows, a task complicated by both the depth involved and the location. Other works were subsequently undertaken and completed so as to prevent further collapses from occurring in the immediate area.
The state of Gibraltar’s main sewer and storm-water drainage networks is a matter of great concern to this Government and this has arisen from a total lack of sufficient investment and neglect in this unseen, yet essential aspect of our infrastructure over the past sixteen years. To this end, the Department is in the process of developing a works plan to address this with a view to rehabilitating these networks in the short to medium term. Funding has been sought for this purpose.
Furthermore, projects to provide flood prevention measures at Wellington Front and
Fish Market Road will be started during the year. Both of these areas have traditionally suffered from flooding problems during periods of concentrated heavy rainfall and this will be a thing of the past when the projects are completed.
Funding is being provided for the purchase of equipment that will expand the Sewer
Infrastructure Sections operational ability to inspect and maintain the sewerage system.
Mr Speaker, in this essential department, this administration inherited a work compliment with 7 important posts unfilled reflecting 33% less personnel out of an approved compliment of 21.
Mr Speaker, this is also the case for the Garage & Workshop where funding for new equipment is also being provided. This entity was yet another, which I was greatly shocked to learn about. Once again morale was low and the staff complement had been left to decline. Nevertheless, the keen and professional staff continues to provide a service to maintain the fleet of Government vehicles, including the refuse collection vehicles, despite suffering from an acute lack of resource. The situation with the Garage & Workshop is also under review given the previous administration’s hurried signing of the Collective Agreement a few weeks before the Election, which placed them in a Government owned Company (GMES) as an interim measure that would allow them to receive a 12% pay increase, plus an increase salary scale of two spinal points. All of this was at the expense of accepting that no further recruitment would be considered except that out of every two persons who retired naturally, only one would be recruited. This would in essence mean the demise of the garage and workshop over time and the intention would have been to outsource all works to the private sector even if this meant an increase in Government expenditure. This hurried agreement, surely for electoral gain has lead to massive discontent within other sectors of the industrial civil service as peers now rightly seek to reap similar financial conditions and legitimate equality regardless of the long-term consequences these may have on the future of the relevant departments. Presently, the Garage and Workshop has 14 vacancies in key posts out of the approved industrial compliment of 37 – this equates to 38% without including the potential loss of up to 5 senior key players within this department seeking an early exit package, agreed in principle but not put in place as time run out before the election. This will also fall on this Government to find a solution to, if this is at all possible under the very difficult conditions set by the GSD Government.
Mr Speaker, design work to install fire hydrants and provide telecommunications coverage inside Dudley Ward tunnel, both of which are manifesto commitments, and both of which should have been done at the time the works to re-open the tunnel were carried out, have also been started. The actual works are programmed to be undertaken this Financial Year.
This brings me to a major manifesto commitment in the form of a new Sustainable Traffic, Transport and Parking Plan. Technical Services will be instrumental in coordinating and developing this over the coming months in conjunction with the Ministries for Public Transport and the Environment. This new plan will provide a comprehensive understanding of the existing traffic, transport and parking situation, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. It will then analyse and evaluate potential options for changing and improving these with a view to encouraging behavioural change and a shift in modal transport towards more sustainable alternatives.
Mr Speaker, as can be seen, Technical Services Department will this coming
Financial Year continue to deliver on their defined responsibilities, maintaining public infrastructure and continue supporting and providing technical input across the board throughout all relevant Government Ministries and Departments, in order to deliver on the Government’s extensive and comprehensive programmes.
DEPARTMENT OF TRAFFIC, PARKING & TRANSPORT
Mr Speaker, I will now consider matters affecting the Departments of Traffic, Parking
& Transport, excluding Public Transport, the latter of which falls under the remit of my colleague the Honourable Neil Costa. The Government’s manifesto commitment regarding the Sustainable Traffic, Transport and Parking Plan to further address
Gibraltar’s parking and traffic issues are well underway as previously touched upon. It is this Government’s Policy that such important issues as these need to be carefully and meticulously examined and expert local opinion is deemed an invaluable aspect of this. To this end, H.M. Government of Gibraltar has embarked upon a very detailed review of the present traffic, parking and transport situation and by way of cross-ministerial and departmental input has chosen to seek and consult the opinion and feedback of not only the leading and key figures within the transport network in Gibraltar, but also those whose livelihoods depend on our reduced network of roads together with the general public who patiently endure the situation on our roads on a daily basis. Consulted parties have been appreciative and pleasantly surprised that this Government would choose to seek and take their “humble” opinions and feedback. In this way, Government may now start to really understand the complexities and how these affect the entire spectrum of the community. A tender has already been issued and we are now at an advanced stage in assessing and finally choosing a suitable consultant to help guide the inter-ministerial departments in providing a serious, sustainable and effective Traffic, Parking and Transport Plan which is hoped will see real improvements to the lives of its road users, residents and pedestrians at large. The Trafalgar Interchange, is proof, that the previous administration did not research this project sufficiently enough and appeared to have rushed the project without given due care and attention to the many pedestrians that frequently access the area and find this area difficult, if not dangerous to navigate.
This area will be given priority, once the Sustainable Traffic, Parking and Transport
Mr Speaker, a study was carried out, post-election, into the usage of the large multi-storey car park in Devil’s Tower Road, and this confirmed the general perception that the building was underutilised and making a financial loss.
In this regard, GCPL is now optimising the car park at Devil’s Tower Road and is now offering parking facilities for larger motorbikes (over 500cc’s) at this facility.
Furthermore, a large area of this car park together with the multi storey car park by
Regal House, is now being used by local wholesale car dealers, to store their export vehicles. In this way, GCPL is maximizing its return on these installations, which would otherwise have been left underused, having cost Gibraltar millions of pounds.
As part of this Government’s preliminary assessment of parking facilities in Gibraltar, car parks are constantly being monitored in order to allow maximum usage, and hence benefit to users at different times of the year. This was seen at the Coach Park over the last Christmas period and also in school car parks during the summer period when staff is away on holiday.
Post-election, this administration took the decision to push ahead with the three car parks at Arengo’s Palace, Governor’s Parade, in the vicinity of the once iconic
Theatre Royal and Engineer’s Lane, embarked upon by the previous administration as these were already at an advanced stage in their construction. The new Government’s environmental concerns were reflected including important environmental modifications namely the provision of a brown roof with all the environmental benefits associated with it and further modifications that will help improve access to residents of the Upper Town within the latter.
Mr Speaker, with a view to increasing efficiency, all HEO’s until recently under GCPL was seconded to the RGP as of the beginning of June. The role of the HEO’s will be extended to cover litter control, dog fouling duties, beach duty, oversize vehicle escort, and aiding the RGP with general Traffic duties and management. The HEO’s are also being deployed to manage the frontier queues on both the exit to Spain and the second loop (by the East Gate), an area prepared by this administration in an effort to improve our vehicle holding capacity.
In keeping with international road markings, which are standard throughout EU countries, all previous “Blue Zones” have now been properly marked out as “Red Zones”. This was a common cause of complaint, especially by foreign visitors who had been caught out on numerous occasions due to this anomaly in road marking convention. H.M. Government of Gibraltar has also made provisions for Taxis to be able to stop, within an area of the Red Zone demarcated for the sole purpose of enabling passengers to get into or alight from the vehicle.
Mr Speaker, it is this Government’s intention to assess and review the previous
Government’s policy for disabled parking bays, and will be considering meaningful changes to the issuing of disabled blue badges and the rules for their usage as the current criterion used, is incoherent, unfair to users and very difficult to police and control.
Another manifesto commitment, and in response to concerned parties was the introduction of Regulations, which enforced the legal requirement for riders of motorcycles and mopeds in Gibraltar to wear appropriate protective headgear.
These Regulations provide that all motorcycle helmets used in Gibraltar must NOT be of the half helmet or novelty helmet model type. Additionally, all helmets allowed, must be of, or equivalent to, the British, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Standard or comply with any standard accepted by a member of the European Economic Area which offers a level of safety and protection equivalent to the British Standard. Government expects this initiative will go a long way in reducing the number of serious head and facial injuries sustained as a result of motorcycle accidents and thus improve safety to motorbike users on our roads.
The positive feedback received across the board has been overwhelming and the common perception being that this simple change in regulation was long overdue.
Furthermore, as part of Government’s awareness on road safety, the Department of
Transport is putting in place administrative and practical procedures for the introduction of Compulsory Basic Training (abbreviated to CBT). This will consist of a preliminary course, which must be completed by people wishing to ride a motorcycle or moped before riding on the road. This course will be introduced as soon as practically possible as a means of reducing accidents on road caused by inexperienced drivers, and will include aspects of riding both on and off-road with a qualified instructor approved by Government. This approach to learning will help candidates to gain a better knowledge and understanding of driving in preparation for the off-road module of the motorcycle test. This will also help to ensure that new motorcyclists gain the right skills and experience before riding bigger bikes. The CBT will be provided by the Department of Transport at no cost to the general public.
Administrative and practical procedures are also well underway for the replacement (for new drivers) of our existing driving licence for a new photo-card driving licence, an agreement for the card format has finally been reached between the U.K. and
H.M. Government of Gibraltar and we are confident that the EU Directive deadline
(19th January 2013) will be met. Besides, negotiations (which are long overdue as no serious attempt to make headway on this issue was made by the previous administration) are presently taking place between H.M. Government of Gibraltar and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to supply our professional Lorry and Bus drivers with Tachograph cards. This will allow our drivers (driving throughout Europe) to legally and accurately record their activities, retain their own records and produce them on demand to transport authorities throughout Europe.
This will thus put an end to the unfair competition being faced by our transport undertakings locally and drivers from across the border.
Mr Speaker, as part of our E-Government initiative the introduction of a revised computerized theory test (CTT) is in progress. This approach to learning will help candidates to gain a better knowledge and understanding of driving theory which will help them respond on the actual practical test. It will allow candidate to take the tests on basic theory of driving, advanced theory of driving and riding via a computerized environment. This offers three multiple choice user-friendly, efficient and convenient touch-screen terminals so that candidates can answer the test questions by “touching” the selected answer. Like the present oral tests, provisions have been made to allow the CTT to be taken in most languages.
Another manifesto commitment aimed to help tackle and reduce unemployment has been the introduction of training to assist applicants wishing to undertake the new driver certificate of professional competence for Bus and Lorry theory tests. This joint multi-ministerial initiative including the Ministry for Employment will positively help reduce unemployment and train our resident workforce by empowering persons who felt that changes in EU legislation had made the test process difficult to be able to confidently sit their theory and practical tests. This will help persons gain a further valuable qualification, which can be useful when trying to achieve employment. This initiative will also enable current drivers to drive professionally throughout Gibraltar and the rest of Europe. This training will be undertaken by the Department of
Transport and is designed to improve the knowledge and skills of professional Bus and Lorry drivers.
An additional joint initiative between the Ministries for Transport and Traffic to positively enhance our public service sector is the deployment of Transport Inspectors. This plan recognises the requirement to examine equipment and procedures to ensure that road haulage and public transport systems are adhered to and conform to the relevant legislation. Government is confident that this initiative will have a substantial impact on the improvement of road transport services available to the transport undertakings and community as a whole.
In order to reflect a more effective and efficient forum for the general public seeking improvements to traffic matters, an innovative Traffic Commission has been appointed which ensures input from the Ministry of the Environment. This Traffic
Commission is conducting regular monthly meetings, something unheard of in the past and has cleared a backlog of matters referred to it in a short period of time.
This, hence, accelerates the time taken between application, a decision being taken, and action.
Moreover, the process for implementing requests, once approved, has been reengineered for the completion of works. This improved working practice will improve the performance of the Commission in the execution of its duties and as previously stated, will reflect a more effective and efficient forum for the general public seeking improvements to traffic matters. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hard working members of the Commission, who without their energy, this improved working practice would not have been possible.
Finally, other initiatives to improve Traffic and Transport throughout Gibraltar as a whole are being considered and will be announced in the near future.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Mr Speaker, Occupational Health and Safety has been left on the back burner for many years, once again, yet another fine example of a severely depleted, demotivated and neglected department. It is this Government’s intention to reverse this trend and has embarked on putting right what has been neglected for so many years, the Health and Safety Inspectorate For this reason, and for the first time, the Government has included Health and Safety as part of a ministerial portfolio in its own right. This rightly suggests the importance that this Government attributes to the Health & Safety of its workforce and community at large to help keep it as safe as reasonable possible through awareness and adequate inspection and supervision of the workplace.
To achieve this, it is essential that we provide an efficient and well-resourced Health
& Safety Inspectorate, as the enforcing authority, with the adequate and effective statutory tools.
We have also identified the need to strike a balance between enforcement, preventive investigation and other activities, such as providing advice, and to exercise a proactive and modern approach to reach out to all stakeholders.
This would require influencing human behaviour by changing employers and employees’ attitudes, by providing practical information and promoting standards.
We need to cultivate a positive Health & Safety culture by raising awareness on the legislation among businesses, recommending standards, practices and guidance, and harmonizing them throughout the industries.
The Health & Safety Inspectorate should not only be seen as an instrument of retribution but rather as a source of valuable advisory service and a partner in assisting employers and employees to fulfil their legal obligations.
To achieve these objectives, the Principal Factories Inspector has been tasked to prepare a comprehensive report into the potential restructure of the Health and Safety Inspectorate so as to submit this, as a blueprint, for the Government to consider.
As a first step in the right direction we have addressed the lack of resources within the department, which have seen only 2 Factory Inspectors within the department since the retirement of the previous Principal Health & Safety Inspector some years back. As a temporary measure, the Government has increased the human resources in the Health & Safety Inspectorate, twofold.
Finally, in collaboration with other organisations, we will be organising the European Health and Safety Week, in October this year.
Mr Speaker, as per our Government’s policy, Ministries with common and overlapping interests are working together to achieve common aims and objectives in order to improve previous Government policy or to achieve manifesto commitments.
To this end, the Departments, that I am responsible for, have been involved in a number of projects for other ministries.
Technical Services is developing the design for the Commonwealth Park Project and the refurbishment of the GASA Sea Bathing Pavilion for this current bathing season and will be assisting in the future GASA Sea Bathing Pavilion Project. The department has also been a key player in the technical advice regarding the procurement of the intended replacement of the bus fleet and the review and potential replacement of the fleet of staff car vehicles for more environmentally friendly vehicles. The Department has also provided staff in order to carry out the Government’s Manifesto commitment of conducting an Annual Health & Safety Audit of each school in Gibraltar, led by the Ministry for Education.
The Department of Vehicle Licencing and Transport have also been working with the
Ministry for Employment to help train persons wishing to learn new skills by way of bus and HGV training.
The Health & Safety Department have conducted reviews of various government facilities including the hospital kitchens and the GSLA Swimming Pool following the collapse of the ventilation system.
Mr Speaker, it is evident, that things have changed, but it will be finally up to the electorate to decide and judge for themselves whether they want that change. I sincerely believe that this Government, one that I am proud to form part of, is pushing forward in a joint, collegiate and positive manner.
Mr Speaker, I would like to conclude my contribution to this budget session by sincerely thanking all members of staff and heads of department who have helped me in my work and made my job so much easier to carry out. All members of staff have received me with open arms and I have been genuinely made to feel at home, in such a short period of time, since the 9th of December. In particular, I would like to thank my personal ministerial staff, who has been key in guaranteeing that I perform my duties to the best of my ability. I sincerely hope that, I may continue this work with the unrelenting help and effort afforded to me by all.