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Having been told that a major review of the Agency’s maintenance contracts had taken place, when I requested a copy I was told no such report had been commissioned!

This is what happened:

May 2010 – Mike Penning appointed roads minister

Oct 2010 – The government announces its Transport Spending Review.  Under “Annex B – Highways Agency roads – Maintaining the network” it said:

  • We will provide a network that continues to be maintained in a safe and serviceable condition, but at a lower cost. This it said would be achieved by:
  • new contracts and improved commercial management which will drive even better supplier performance and further value for money
  • It referred to a reduction from £1,124 million to £947 million (23%) in expenditure, excluding capital investment, on the network between 2010/11 and 2014/5.
  •  It said we will appoint a non-executive chair for the Highways Agency, and will appoint a performance monitoring group to back up the agency’s efficiency drive.  We will review the operation of the Agency to see whether broader reform can generate better value for money.

Nov 2011 – New Agency Chairman Alan Cook issues his report A Fresh Start for the Strategic Road Network 

Feb 2012 – The Agency appointed a new contractor in Area 2 using its new  Asset Support Contract . The press release stated that “The new contracts will ensure motorways and major ‘A’ roads continue to be maintained to high standards while delivering substantial savings and making the major part of the Highways Agency’s contribution to reducing the budget deficit”.

Oct 2012 – Mike Penning replaced by Stephen Hammond as roads minister

April 2013 – Stephen Hammond writes to Mike Penning saying: 

“Although the Agency is operating with lower budgets following the 2010 spending review they continue to focus on litter picking duties. During your time at the DfT you oversaw a major review of the Agency’s maintenance contracts. This review was designed to deliver a similar level of service for road users including litter picking but at a much reduced cost”

Feb 2014 – I put in an information request to the DfT for a copy of this “major review”.

April 2014 – I complain to the information Commissioner that my request has been ignored They subsequently issue a Decision Notice admonishing the DfT for not complying within the statutory response time.

May 2014 – I receive a response to my information request. After I question it the DfT confirm that they do not hold any such review documents and that no such report has been commissioned.

 

However:

Mr Penning must have  overseen some sort of process aimed at achieving the target set out in the Spending Review. 

The new  contract described as “delivering substantial savings” was rolled out in 2012.

The target seemed to have been achieved. In his evidence to the Commons Select Transport Committee in Feb 2014 the Highways Agency’s Chief Executive said, in reference to service and maintenance contracts, that he had reduced unit costs over the last three to four years in the order of 20%.

This all cannot have happened by magic. There must have been a gathering of  proposals, some analysis carried out, decisions made  and a plan of action drawn up.

If there was no such review why would Mr Hammond say there had been one?

I believe that any review document would show how the cost reductions might have impacted on the Secretary of States’ duty under EPA S89(1)  to ensure the motorways are kept clear of litter.

I plan to take this  up with Robert Goodwill.

My information request and the subsequent documents can be seen here

Peter Silverman
21st May 2014

 

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