THE cash-strapped county council is passing on responsibility for ‘non-essential’ highway maintenance services to town and parish councils.

The money-saving scheme will see more community volunteer teams carrying out tasks normally carried out by Dorset Highways.

A Dorset County Council spokesperson said while residents “would ideally like all roads to be in an ‘A1’ condition”, in the “current financial climate, that is becoming increasingly difficult”.

The highways service has had to focus on tackling the most damaged sections of roads and areas with safety issues. As a result, many ‘non-essential’ highway maintenance services, including gully cleaning, verge cutting, white lining, and sign cleaning, have been cut back in frequency.

“Recognising that many of the ‘nice-to-have’ services affect the look and feel of Dorset’s towns and villages, Dorset Highways has created ways for town and parish councils to supplement these activities and carry out additional highway work in their area,” the spokesperson said.

Blandford Town Council, Wimborne Town Council, Gillingham Town Council, and Shaftesbury Town Council have all signed up to a ‘working together’ initiative to give them more control over highways services in their patch.

As well as organising volunteer teams to carry out work on the highway, the councils have been given the option to commission either Dorset Highways or a qualified contractor to carry out additional work.

They will also have an annual agency agreement with Dorset Highways for specific additional work.

Local councillors now have direct access to Dorset Highways' policy and performance documents for clearer information between the organisations.

Andrew Martin, service director for highways and emergency planning at Dorset County Council, said: “The current financial climate – with our central Government grant reducing each year – means we have to continually evaluate the level of service we can afford to provide.

“We will continue to repair defects and maintain our network to ensure the safety of road users – but we cannot provide the same services or frequency of services that we did five years ago.”

Six further councils are currently reviewing draft agreements and 11 more are discussing their individual needs with highway officers.