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Area 10 road maintenance contractor to 'do minimum'

Balfour Beatty/ Mott MacDonald to work to letter of Highways Agency contract.

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M60: Part of the Area 10 contract

Fears that the Highways Agency’s new maintenance contracts spell doom for the condition of England’s motorways and trunk roads resurfaced this week after one of its maintenance contractors ditched its planned work programme.

It has emerged that Balfour Beatty/Mott MacDonald has told the Agency that it will not be carrying out the programme for the Area 10 North West region developed by its predecessor A-one+.

“The implications could be very grave for the whole network”

Roads contractor

Instead, it will do the minimum required under the terms of the contract to keep the Area 10 road network in a safe and serviceable condition.

Fears that replacing Managing Agent Contractor (MAC) contracts with Asset Support Contracts (ASCs) would lead to such a do-minimum approach first surfaced shortly after the ASCs were unveiled in July 2011 (NCE 28 July 2011).

ASCs incentivise cost cutting via lump sum and target cost schedules of rates and “outcome” based standards focused on maintaining safety. The Agency relaxed maintenance standards to accompany the move.

In Area 10 this has led to a change in the work being planned.

“Usually a new contractor would come in and take on the previously designed and valued schemes but this is not happening in Area 10,” said a source close to the contract.

“Balfour Beatty has said it will not be delivering schemes as the Highways Agency wants to. The Agency is nervous because the contractor is working to the letter of the ASC contract, which is all about maintaining the current condition of the network, while not showing much interest in improving it,” said the source.

The Highways Agency admitted the work was being reprogrammed, but insisted that the changes had been agreed.

“The work is being reprogrammed,” said a spokesman.

“We are now under a different type of contract that is less prescriptive and gives contractors more flexibility on how they deliver schemes. Nothing has been rejected and the work is not being redesigned. It will be carried out later.

“Nothing in the programme for Area 10 has been changed without the agreement of the Agency,” he added.

There are further concerns about the future condition of the network. It is understood that Balfour Beatty/Mott MacDonald has already issued an “early warning” to the Agency, saying that routine maintenance beyond that agreed under the terms of its contract is likely to be needed to keep the condition of Area 10 at a safe and serviceable level.

“Early warnings are often issued by contractors, but there is a very worrying undercurrent here,” said one contractor.

“The asset is already in a poor state. We all know that. The implications could be very grave for the whole network if the Agency tries to mobilise maintenance programmes but cannot because it is not in contractors’ interests to do so.”

An Agency spokesman said he had spoken to the Balfour Beatty team and said: “Roads will be maintained to the required standard. The contractor in Area 10 is looking at the best way to do so.”

Balfour Beatty was asked to comment but referred inquiries to the Highways Agency.

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