The Highways Agency is to take part of its roads maintenance work back in-house – but has denied that asset support contracts (ASCs) are to be phased out.
The Agency is to split the maintenance of its Area 7 – covering the East Midlands – into three separate contracts for design, construction and routine work, as well as doing more of the decision making itself.
Area 7 is currently held by the Aone+ consortium under an old-style managing agent contractor (MAC) deal. This is due to expire in summer 2016, but will not now follow the other 11 areas in being replaced by an ASC.
ASCs – designed to drive down the cost of roads upkeep – have hit their own problems, with shortlisted firms across five areas recently asked to re-tender after the Agency was unhappy with parts of some bids.
In the East Midlands, the Agency is to take control of decision making back from its contractors, and instead procure one firm for design, one forconstruction, and another for routine maintenance such as grass cutting and winter gritting.
Highways Agency network delivery director David Brewer told NCE: “We need to break the work down into three elements so we get the right people focusing on each element.
“We will go to market for the contracts, and we are still working on the detail of how we will do that.”
The Agency revealed that fresh invitations to tender would be issued to bidders for the Area 4 and 12 ASC deals by mid-March.
Shortlisted firms in Areas 1, 13 and 14 will receive the documents by the end of June, it added.
The client went back to this stage of procurement for those deals after having “concerns with some elements” of the original bids it received, said a spokesman.
But Brewer insisted the five contracts would continue as ASCs, joining six that have already been awarded since 2012.
“The ASCs we have and are continuing with have been really successful,” he said. “They were launched in times of austerity and reduced costs by 29% without a deterioration of the condition of the network.”
He said changing targets meant the need for a new approach.
“We have committed to improving traffic flow and safety, reducing congestion and working more efficiently while increasing customer satisfaction,” said Brewer.
“We will need to be much more effective at long-term asset management planning and using data.”
He added: “We need to be closer to the decision making as that’s what will drive the improvement. The old ASCs and those we are awarding transfer potential risk to contractors. The model we are using for Area 7 allows us to bring decision making in-house.”
After Areas 1, 4, 12, 13 and 14 are awarded as ASCs, and Area 7 under the new format, the next deals up for renewal will be Areas 2 and 10.
Brewer said the type of contract used here would be decided on merit.
“We will be looking at Area 7 and also at the [ASCs],” he said. “We also have another form for the M25, where a design, build, finance and operate contract is in place. That has been done differently to MACs, ASCs and Area 7.”
He added: “Even the ASCs are not all the same. They have been let in different lots, and each time the contract has evolved. We look at what is working and not working and learn.
“There is some benefit in having a blend of different models.”