The Freedom of information Act should result in transparency, accountability. However, some Public Authorities such as Highways England and TfL have put information beyond the Act by effectively placing vital roles with contractors; private companies, who are not subject to FoIA. These businesses could be subject to the information legislation but the Public Authorities have failed to include the relevant wording in their contracts.
Some highways contractors appear keen to keep from the public that they are charging their client, the Public Authority, one rate but the public another, much higher (and on occasions not compliant with the contact) sum for the same staff, vehicles and materials. Whilst it a simple matter to ask a Public Authority for the schedule of rates they agreed at the commencement of the contract, Highways England and TfL who ‘work for you’, obstruct and frustrate – the common response is ‘commercially sensitive’.
However it appears this actually means ‘financial sensitivity’; that to disclose the rates would cause the public to realise that they were being fleeced; subsidising road maintenance and / or allowing their contractors to make secret profits.
How does this affect you? Let’s say you hit a barrier and the cost is over £10,000. The contractor undertakes the repair and bills the Public Authority using a schedule of rates agreed at contract commencement. But if the bill is under £10,000, the contract does not allow the repairer to bill the Public Authority, instead, if they want their costs back, they must get it from the driver, fleet or insurer (Third Party) – you. However, when doing so, they do not use the contract rates but higher ones.
Some contracts say the rates to the public Authority and Third Parties are to be the same. Highways England, for example, built protection for Third Parties into some contracts. But because you do not know this and aided by the Public Authority, you are kept from the process and rates (and will be obstructed, frustrated and even have facts misrepresented), you stand no chance of determining whether the process is being followed and costs are those agreed. What is the point of such ‘protection’ if it is not monitored, enforced – and it is not. It is evident some contractors cannot be relied upon to comply – they have failed to do so.
To date, even with access to and understanding of the agreed rates and methodology, we have yet to encounter a contractor billing the Public Authority correctly – or The Public Authority recognising this before they demand payment.
On the one hand, the Public Authority dealing with a lesser number of claims (they are higher value), experienced in such matters with dedicated teams to handle the claims, have access to the contract, process and rates. On the other, you are kept in the dark, unable to make informed an decision.
Is commercially sensitive appropriate, would releasing the rates really prejudice the contractor or prevent the Public Authority getting best value? We believe this is smoke and mirrors designed to fool you and the ICO. The contractors speak (and conspire) with one-another. Staff move between positions in the companies, are TUPE’d over – for more examples, click here.
Now, if you wish to see a schedule of rates, click here – Area 12’s reasonable tariffs are readily available, over 600 of them! As for other Areas, commercially sensitive? Hardly – commercially embarrassing and commercially concerning … the information would finally and unequivocally evidence what we have known for years – some contractors are abusing their privileged position under the noses of Public Authorities have failed (intentionally or recklessly?) to monitor them and identify the issues.
And the schedule of rates is just one means by which some contractors will over charge you!
To request information from a Public Authority, we recommend the use of WhatDoTheyKnow.com which has a simple, quick registration process. The following specific WhatDoTheyKnow links may be helpful: