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NAO report says England's Highways Agency must maximize value for money from maintenance contracts

A Highways Agency (HA) survey suggests that more than 50% of motorists in England who came across lanes closed for roadworks didn’t see any work taking place. Of 2,000 drivers polled, 48% said they had encountered roadworks on their most recent journey, up from 38% in 2007/08. Drivers reported their experiences as part of the latest National Road Users Satisfaction Survey carried out by the Highways Agency. The 2008/09 survey found 76% of drivers passing roadworks said they saw lanes closed to facilitate the work, but 55% reported that they could see no obvious maintenance being carried out at the time. The findings of the poll were revealed in a National Audit Office (NAO) report into the maintenance of England’s motorways and trunk roads.

Right: Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office says that only 58% of planned maintenance schemes on the English highways network were delivered within the expected number of days

The NAO says the Agency must do more to ensure maintenance contracts offered good value for money to the taxpayer. The NAO says the cost of routine maintenance had increased by 11% above inflation since 2002. A ‘lack of management information’ meant accurate figures for the cost of additional work, such as road resurfacing, could not be gathered. This lack of information was partly due to a shortage of skilled surveyors and engineers able to manage contracts, it is claimed. However, the audit office was not wholly critical, pointing out that the average overspend for projects had fallen from 27% in 2002 to 12% this year. But despite some improvements, just 58% of planned maintenance schemes were delivered within the expected number of days. “As is so often the case, a lack of probing analysis of the information which is available – and continuing gaps in some areas – undermine the drive to maximize value for money,” says Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.

Left: Graham Dalton, chief executive of the HA, says that the Highways Agency has been transformed into a world-leading road operator over the past five years

But the Agency insisted it was working hard to drive down costs. Graham Dalton, chief executive of the HA, says the cost of road resurfacing had risen because increasingly it also involved work to renew drainage, lighting and crash barriers. “We work hard to keep our motorways and trunk roads safe and well maintained, keeping disruption to road users to a minimum and increasing value for money for the taxpayer,” he says. “Over the past five years, we have transformed the Highways Agency into a leading roads operator. Maintenance contracts are now being let on a similar basis and we are using this to drive down the cost of highway maintenance.”

 

October 20, 2009

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