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Highways Agency Minister’s statement  that “Service providers are subject to regular audit and performance monitoring by the Highways Agency to ensure contractual requirements are being met” does not seem to apply to the removal of litter and refuse. 

The Agency does not make any checks to see if  the service provider for the M40 is fulfilling his contractual cleaning obligations. The Environmental Amenity Audit process applicable to the M25 and other motorways is seriously flawed.

I made an information request on 30th October 2012 to the Highways Agency. I referred them to the statement of Stephen Hammond, the Under-secretary of State for Transport with responsibility for the Agency, in which he had said: “Service providers are subject to regular audit and performance monitoring by the Highways Agency to ensure contractual requirements are being met”.

I asked for the last three three audits / performance monitoring inspections for the M25 (Area 5) and the M40 (Area 30) for the period Jan 1 – Sept 30 2012.  Having received the information I then made a follow up request on 4th December for:

(a) Any M40 reports which covered  maintenance and/or litter clearance going back to  back to 1st January 2011 as none of the reports they had sent covered litter.

(b) Guidance notes specifying  how the M25  “Litter & Debris” sections of the Environmental Amenity Index audits they sent me were carried out.

They kindly replied on 7th December. Let’s look at what this information revealed looking at each motorway in turn.

 

M40 AREA30

The initial three  audit  reports and the topics covered were as follows:

29th March 2012  – Structures,
21st June 2012 –  Health & Safety,
28th September –  Quality Management

I then received the following further  reports on 7th December.

15th November 2011 – Operation & Maintenance 
31st January 2012 – Operations & Maintenance

Litter was covered in only one of these five audits –  that of the 15th November 2011.  However in carrying it out no physical inspections of the cleanliness of the highway were made. The report stated that “CHM demonstrated a comprehensive procedure for recording inspection  and clearance of litter across all of the M40″ . [CHM presumably refers to Carrillion Highways Management, the contractor, UK Highwways M40 Ltd’s, sub contractor] Later it concluded that “Litter is being managed efficiently …”  The audit looked solely at systems and paperwork without any checks of what was happening  on the ground. This applied to all of the areas examined  – not just to litter.

The  absence of any physical inspects was further confirmed when the Treasury Solicitor’ Office replied on 30th May 2012 to my e-mail to them of 16th May 2012. I had asked:  “In the last 12 months and in respect to the area I have complained about: 1. How many times has an inspection been carried out by Highways Agency personnel (as opposed to employees of a contractor) to assess the degree of cleanliness or otherwise.” They replied saying: “ I am instructed that my client has no information to provide you as litter has not been inspected at M40 J1 by the Highways Agency personnel“.

 

M25 AREA 5

Litter was covered in  monthly  “Environmental Amenity Index”  (EAI) audits. I was sent copies of the audits for January to October 2012. The top of the  24th January  2012 audit is reproduced here.
Below is a close-up of grade definitions for Litter & Refuse.
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On December 7th I was sent the relevant  section of the Agency’s Area Performance Indicator Handbook which describes the EAI audit process  as a “subjective visual assessment”. The salient points from it  are as follows:

“A 5 km length of continuous carriageway is jointly chosen at random by the Provider and the HA Route Sponsor with no prior notice given to the Provider’s operations team“…

Inspections are carried out from a vehicle travelling as slowly as the prevailing traffic speeds allow without disruption of traffic flow where practicable”.

At the end of each 1000m an assessment following the guidance notes is made …. these are then averaged out to obtain the overall score for each category“.

Data source: Provider’s Inspection records“.

General Guidance on Grading system: 1. Inspection to be carried out and agreed with HA route inspector“.

The following points are of obvious concern:
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The grade descriptions are wrong
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They do not correspond to those in DEFRA’s Litter Code of Practice( LC).  The LC defines grade B as “predominantly free of litter and refuse apart from some small items“.   This the acceptable standard for soft surfaces such as road verges.  The Amenity report however defines grade B as “Not much (litter) apart from a few items“.  An area of verge with a few cigarette packets/ paper cups would qualify as a  B using the report’s definition but would be unacceptable using the LC definition.
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Refuse is not included
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Also, the Agency / Connect Plus definitions only refer to “litter” whereas the Code refers to “litter and refuse”. This implies that discarded traffic cones, hub caps and fridges would not impact on the grading.
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Averaging over a kilometer does not make sense
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A kilometer stretch might have lots of patches of grade C but these could be averaged away by areas of grade A making it a grade B. It would appear in the audit as satisfactory although to a passing motorist it would be considered to be defaced by litter.  It would also not comply with the duty under EPA S89 (1) to ensure the land is kept clear of litter and refuse.
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Slip Roads
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None of the 10 reports include any slip roads which are acknowledged by the Agency as litter blackspots and in my experience almost invariably sub standard.
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Advanced notice of the inspections

The Provider, i.e. the contractor/service provider,  knows in advance which section of road is to be inspected but promises not to tell his operations team.   I would question why the  Provider is involved in choosing the section to be inspected in the first place and why  he is given any more notice than the time it would take for his representative to attend after a phone call. ( I have been told by someone who had been an operative on another motorway that they knew in advance which sections were going to be inspected).

Poor viewing platform / speed

Why does the vehicle not  drive slowly along the hard shoulder, with protection from a blocking vehicle. To see litter in a ditch or down an embankment one would need an elevated vantage point or, better still, to be on foot.  A 40 mph drive-by in a  car would not suffice.

 

The very different audit processes for the M40 and the M25 do not, in my opinion, ensure that contractual obligations, as far as the removal of litter and refuse are concerned, are being met. 

 

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Peter Silverman
4th December 2012
revised 6th march 2013 
 

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