Highways England vs. National Audit Office
The truth is out there … but do not expect to obtain it from Highways England or their contractors.
When billing Third Parties (drivers, fleets, hauliers and insurers) following ‘Damage to Crown property’ (DCP) Highways England have recently made a confession; they overlooked setting costs for labour, plant and materials on numerators contracts for the past 6 or so years. Despite complaints about pricing and multiple requests for the rates since 2013, the Public Authority has conceded what appears to be gross negligence with regard to their Asset Support Contracts (ASC’s), their stance is now:
‘none of the ASCs contain schedules of rates’– more examples of such replies can be found here.
As these rates are used when billing Highways England and Third Parties, if there is no schedule how could the Public Authority reconcile any invoice presented by a contractor pre-payment? The answer is ‘they could not’ – each was rubber-stamped for payment! For 6 years, multiple contracts, daily bills, requests for information, complaints, letters questioning the issue and threats made against us … no one noted the absence of such rates? During 175 FoIA requests / reviews, no one even looked at, or for, the schedule?
We raised this with the National Audit Office (NAO). As DCP rates are (or should be) the basis of claims over £10,000 presented to Highways England and there appeared to be a pain / gain relationship, how could the NAO meaningfully audit in the absence of a benchmark, how did they miss this basic facet of multiple contracts? The answer is they did not! Their response, having read our concerns:
(ASC) a schedule of rates is included, and this should be used as the basis for the calculation of costs for claims above and below the £10,000 threshold
Why the stark contradiction? An explanation is that the rates exist but for years Highways England was able to keep them secret (just as they did the means by which they were to be paplied – Appendix A to Annex 23) by citing an FoI exemption to disclosure; ‘commercially sensitive’. But then, 11/2018, an Authority employee negated the exemption; the rates were not sensitive, there was no bar to disclosure. The very next request was met with ‘do not exist’.
How damaging must disclosure of the rates be for Highways England to admit incompetence and mislead rather than produce the schedule of DCP Rates?
Once upon a time … there was a schedule of rates