Amey workers were spotted filling in potholes on a road in the Mayfield Valley, Fulwood, but missing some out.
When questioned by a passerby, they said it was being ignored because it had not been logged as urgent.
The walker was told that Amey workers were always being asked why potholes were being left unfixed and they felt they should be “wearing splayed-out boots and red noses” because they “feel like clowns”.
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Councillor Douglas Johnson, executive member for climate change and transport, said the council “signed away” its control of the highways when it entered the £2.2 billion Streets Ahead PFI contract with Amey which started in 2012 and comes to an end in 2037.
He said: “This is what happens when you have staff who are perfectly capable of filling in potholes but aren’t given the initiative to go and fix what obviously needs to be done.
“It’s a very controlled working environment but, like buses, it’s a private company and their aim isn’t to provide a public service. They are contracted to provide a public service but their job is to make profits.”
He added: “It must be very unsatisfying for someone working on the roads there if you have gone away and done your job but it still looks half done. You don’t get any pleasure from that sort of work. It’s not a good outcome for anyone but I suppose it’s the way they control the work they do to make sure they don’t do any more work than the minimum to satisfy the contract requirements.”
Amey said it had repaired more than 169,000 potholes across Sheffield since the contract began and its pothole repairs are prioritised according to their size, location and impact on traffic and pedestrians.
It said if there is a pothole on a road that is part of the planned surfacing programme and it is not classified as urgent then it will be repaired in full when the entire road surface is re-laid.