National Audit Office (NAO) and the Half-Truth

During 2019, we raised a concern with the NAO; Highways England claimed to have no schedule of Damage to Crown Property (DCP) rates (registered users read more here) in any of their Asset Support Contracts (ASC) – no ‘price list’ for contractor staff, operatives, plant or materials engaged in the 1,000’s of road-repair incidents each year.  This has been the situation since 2012.  The NAO initially took our concerns seriously, they arranged a meeting with an Authority manager to address the issue.

14/05/2019, the meeting took place and whilst it appears only the NAO kept a note of what was discussed – copy here – our concerns were unwarranted; a schedule of DCP rates exists.  Of course they do.  An extract from the meeting note reads:

ASCs include a schedule of rates – these should be used as the basis for the cost pack (for claims both below and above £10k).

Individual claims differ due to different schedules of rates between areas

We were assured ASC’s have a schedule of rates for repairs.

However, when Highways England became aware of the above, they claimed there had been a misunderstanding, the Authority was referring to ‘ASC’ not ‘DCP’ rates.

‘ASC’ rates are for pre-planned works, schemes.  Odd, we never raised these, we have no interest in them and the NAO’s note contains no reference to such rates – it is clearly about DCP matters, the subject of our concerns.

We sought an explanation from the NAO and received a letter 09/12/2019, an extract from which reads: 

‘The minute of my original meeting of 14 May 2019 with a Highways England official, which you included in your correspondence, said that ‘ASCs include a schedule of rates’. This might have been taken to imply, in the context, that a schedule of pre-defined rates existed for the settlement of DCP cases.’

Really?  The minute actually went further than above:

ASCs include a schedule of rates – these should be used as the basis for the cost pack (for claims both below and above £10k).

‘ASC’s include a schedule of rates’ is just half the sentence.   

The rest of the sentence did not ‘imply‘ a schedule of rates existed, it confirmed this was the case by referencing ‘claims‘ which was, after all, the point of the meeting!  Why would there be a reference to ‘claims‘ in the NAO’s note unless rates for damage were being discussed (the point of the meeting)?  ASC rates, pre-planned rates do not relate to ‘claims’ or damage following a collision, fire or fluid spill.  ‘ASC rates’ relate to improvements, maintenance or scheme work.

Similarly, why is there mention of the £10,000 claim threshold if discussing ASC rates?  There is no threshold associated with pre-planned works.  The threshold relates to DCP events; attendance and repair costs below £10,000 cause the invoice to be retained by the contractor who must pursue recovery from the at-fault party.  Above, £10,000, the contractor bills the Authority who pursues the Third Party.

The minute also reinforces what we and the Court have been told; the schedule of rates should be the basis for the cost pack for both below and above £10,000 claims.  But it is not and that is the point … below the threshold, at least one contractor has been using a concocted, high, schedule of rates since 2014 to bill Third Parties … with the knowledge of the Authority.

Is it surprising the Authority does not want the schedule of DCP rates disclosed … for tens of thousands of drivers, fleets hauliers or their insurers to discover just how much they have been overcharged by a contractor acting in the name of a Public Authority?

The NAO doth protest too much, methinks … we have followed this up raising yet more concerns – read more here. 

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