201210 Temporary VRS (vehicle restraint system) Abuse

‘Temporary Vehicle Restraint System’, the new credit hire and Highway England’s rubber-stamping invoices for payment.

For some background on this issue, the installation of temp’ VRS and its money-spinning potential, click here: Temp’ VRS (Vario Guard) & Monitoring Costs

A specific 2017 matter, involving payment of almost £1/4 million in 2019 to BBMM, is conveyed in our correspondence to the Government Legal Department (GLD) below.  Damage to a parapet that started life as likely below £10,000, passed to Highways England when approx. £27,000 but ultimately became £237,000 just before the contractor’s contract came to an end, seemingly paid without thought as, only now, is the Authority/GLD looking to have the matter audited – at a cost to the public purse! 

10/12/2020 To: governmentlegal.gov.uk

Subject: RE: Your ref CMA ref U10D233 – temp VRS and the (further) abuse of the public purse … approx. £1/4 million

Dear (redacted)

Your email does not address ours of 04/12/2020.

We again ask that you justify the delay that saw this claim,  initially estimated to be less than £10,000, amounting to over £237,000 and explain why it was paid without thought?

  • Highways England paid BBMM almost £1/4 million seemingly without reconciling the invoice
  • Either Highways England & GLD have not sought explanation from BBMM following our appointment/questions or BBMM have failed to address the issues
  • As Highways England and GLD have failed to release information, it therefore appears reasonable to assume you have none accordingly:
  • Now, almost 2 year since the repair was concluded, post-payment, unable to reconcile the invoice yourselves, presumably at further cost to the public, you will ‘probably’ have another do the work.

You wrote it was’ likely’ a review would occur; less than confidence inspiring.

I expect GLD and Highways England to be in contact with me regarding the FoIA request.  You are in breach of the Act.

We have not taken issue with you instructing an expert to review the costs incurred in repairing the parapet.  We have queried why this is being undertaken post-payment, almost 2 years after the Authority paid in full, almost 4 years after the incident and following our consideration.  Years ago we  raised straightforward, logical questions that Highways England/GLD only now consider to merit more expenditure from the public purse?

Highways England now employs people from Area 10, former BBMM employees. Can no one at GLD or Highways England understand and explain the bill?

This claim started life in early 2017, with BBMM seemingly believing the costs would be less than £10,000; they initially approached the insurer.  The bill then increased, was for over £27,000 and passed to Highways England.

Mid-2017 we were writing to Highways England asking questions.  The Authority was apparently awaiting information, the repair had not been undertaken and so this situation continued through 2018; we wrote, the Authority but received no answers.  In early 2019, aware of our involvement, the repair completed, the Authority paid in full, over £237,000 and sought repayment.

The matter was placed with GLD over a year ago when we wrote:

Have you had a chance to get your head around the continuity … can we have a more reasonable / accurate reserve.  I believe our client would appreciate this.

We understand you were seeking information.  It appears BBMM have declined to address your queries too.  It appears you have undertaken no review, are unable to do so as you wish to pay others to do this.  Conversely, we are more than capable of reviewing the invoice – if provide information!

You have correctly identified that we ‘have queried a very many aspects of this claim’.  One aspect is why the bill was paid before determining whether the costs were reasonable.  That you now (2 years after we have bene writing) need to establish this suggests no one has determined this previously i.e. almost £1/4 million was paid thoughtlessly, recklessly.

What do you intent to provide your ‘expert’ that we have not been supplied that will address, for example, the delays?  In what respect are they ‘independent’?

Our current concerns, that your audit/review is unlikely to address are:

  1. What review was taken pre-payment – this was the time to consider the charges.  It must surely have occurred to someone at Highways England that a claim for £27,000, then presented at £237,000 warranted closer (some) inspection.

We have repeatedly asked for the pre-payment reconciliation.  The absence of this suggest there was none.  It appears someone has erred and paid neigh on £¼ million; why and what enquiry has been conducted.

Just how many such incidents are there?

The expenses submitted (in excel spreadsheet) comprise over 3,000 defined cost items (labour, plant etc.) with a line item for each and every relevant component of defined cost.  These are individual items, with employee-specific references (payroll numbers?) assigned to ‘expenditure type’. Receipt date, period etc.  It appears these may have originally been supplied to Highways England in the pdf format provided to us – less than ideal, unmanageable.

  1. In or about 08/2018, many of the rates (defined costs) assigned to BBMM operatives increased dramatically, in some cases exceeding 100%.  Please explain for this.
  1. The works were completed 12/2018, but payment was made at of about 04/2019, the contract concluded 01/01/2019.  The Authority parted with the monies in the knowledge the contract was about to come to end, that the ability to obtain answers/information would be hampered, if not impossible?

Apparently, Highways England also paid BBMM a further £1/4million for ‘underpayment’[1], in addition to this claim.

  1. This claim sees the approval to submit the charges endorsed by BBMM’s commercial director who is now employed by Highways England.  It appears they left BBMM as the contract expired and was taken on by the Authority.  Possibly he can explain the claim and conduct?
  1. We have raised the issue of delayed repairs (01/2017 incident, early 2019 repair) being concerned.  During the 2 year delay:
    1. Temporary VRS (vehicle restraint system) was in place – hired/rented, attracting a per-meter, per-day cost.
    2. BBMM add 4% uplift fee[2]  to the VRS rental.  But then there is the substantial cost ….
    3. BBMM inspect the temp’ VRS to ensure it is still in place – utilising 2 operatives and  van at what cost … about £30/hr for labour, £15/hour for plant[3] – the 2-hours attendance/inspecting charged equates to £75/visit, 3 times/day (£225/day) for over 600 days.  The BBMM labour cost (which we accept will include some attendance/repair charges) was over £90,000
    4. To this add 9.10%[4], BBMM’s ‘overhead and profit’ mark-up – over £8,000
    5. Scaffolding was also present, this too was hired, the cost increasing as delays continued and this too attracted a BBMM mark-up.

Who has explained the delay, where is the correspondence setting this out and what do you intend to provide your independent expert that you have kept from us?

Where was the incentive to repair?

The activities at ‘c’ and ‘d’ are to check  a couple of hundred meters of cones and a hefty structure (temp’ VRS) on a motorway.  At 60mph i.e. 30m/second (approx.), equates to a distance covered in 7 seconds or 14 seconds at 30mph.  2 hours are charged for travelling to and from the location.

We understood the Authority’s claims handlers had grasped and accepted our arguments; if any cost is reasonable, attributable, it can only be the travel to or from the location.  To charge both is unreasonable and duplication – who incurs the cost of the travel from the last ‘job’ to this inspection, or to the next task?  They are also being billed for the journeys to/from this inspection – for up to 3 times/day on over 600 days.

We continue to await evidence these inspections were necessary.

However, these operatives and their van were paid no more for the ‘checking’ activity, they presented no further cost to BBMM.  These were operatives going about their usual daily activity of driving along the motorway, being paid whether or not the temp’ VRS was presented and needed checking. Indeed, they were likely paid for by way of the monthly lump-sum payment Highways England supplied BBMM.

Please justify this head of claim, evidencing the cost and ‘significant disruption’.  We expect to have explained the loss arising, claimed and provided evidence temporary workers were recruited to attend to activities these drive-by operatives were diverted form or of the overtime paid to staff etc. i.e. for significant disruption to be evidenced.

We have commented that this appears akin to the ‘bad old days’ of credit hire – place a non-fault driver in a hire car and …. sit back, watch the costs accumulate.  In this instance, apparently in the knowledge Highways England were unable or unwilling to review the bill but pay ‘no questions asked’.

We have led you to the water, we cannot make you drink.  This is an issue affecting many repairs and it appears to warrant detailed investigation of contractors and their relationship with suppliers of such equipment (temp’ VRS). Please confirm this will occur.


[1] We understand the Area 10 contract saw  a claimed under-recovery by BBMM of £278,287 and a balancing payment made.

[2] covering items including head office charges and overheads, corporation tax, legal costs, insurances, including excesses, advertising and recruitment, as well as a profit element and other items

[3] We can be more specific, I possess the excel spreadsheet displaying the line item for each and every relevant component of Defined Cost.

[4] BBMM’s uplift upon ‘reimbursable costs’ appearing in their final summary.