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Commons committee hammers Highways Agency over costs

MPs last week admonished the Highways Agency for not doing enough to control wide variations in maintenance costs from its contractors.

The Public Accounts Committee’s report into the cost to the taxpayer of the Highways Agency’s Managing Agent Contractor maintenance contracts found there to be “serious shortcomings” that put value for money at risk.

“We expect the Agency to find out why it is spending substantially more in one place than another and whether the differences are justified,” said committee chairman Edward Leigh.

“We expect the Agency to find out why it is spending substantially more in one place than another and whether it’s justified.”

Edward Leigh

The Agency gave evidence to the committee that showed unit costs for types of work greatly differed in different regions. For example, the average costs of resurfacing ranged from £17/m2 to £35/m2 and thin surfacing materials ranged from £63/t to £101/t at September 2008 prices.

“The basic point is that the Agency does not know enough about what it is getting for the taxpayers’ money,” said Leigh.

Highways Agency chief executive Graham Dalton said the Agency welcomed the report and its recommendations.

“Over the last five years we have transformed the Agency’s contract management capability to deliver a better service to road users,” he said. “I will now move forward with my team continuing to keep the strategic road network in good condition while delivering increased value for money.”

In November last year, Agency network operations director Derek Turner admitted to the committee that a lack of qualified engineers was a key reason it had failed to keep a lid on rising maintenance costs (NCE 5 November 2009). The Agency has lost 50 engineers since 2004.


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