210908 Temp’ VRS: a Cost National Highways Pay Unnecessarily! Why Should You?

On occasions a driver will cause damage to the SRN that cannot be repaired immediately but represents an impairment to a safety-critical structure posing a potential threat to road-users. For example, a parapet’s metal rails and posts, all that stand between the road and another carriageway 4 meters or more below, may be absent or compromised, unable to withstand another impact. In such circumstances, ‘temporary’ protection, a ‘Vehicle Restraint System’ (VRS), is required, necessary.

But contractors and the Authority appear not to understand ‘temporary’ or what costs this should reasonably give rise to. Furthermore, National Highways, seem to have no control over the installation of temp’ VRS, no knowledge of the extent to which it is being applied on current damage/repairs and are without an understanding of the maintenance process; unable to provide the VRS supplier’s instructions. Seemingly when presented charges National Highways rubber-stamp the bill for settlement believing they can demand reimbursement in full from the at-fault driver, fleet, haulier or their insurer (Third Party).

Accepting the temporary barrier is necessary, presented a charge for its installation (£3,000?) and a similar bill for its removal may seem fair.  To this add a per-meter, per-day charge and it will be appreciated the bill starts to rack up; the meter is running.

The VRS supplier is not in control of the repair, this falls to the Area contractor requesting the installation who will add their mark-up, possibly 4% for their ‘trouble’. But that is not the end of the matter …

The Abuse:

The contractor asserts the temporary restraint system requires monitoring, to ensure, for example, it has not been disturbed. Regularly, contractors present charges for 3 visits per day, stating this is the required routine. Really?

It is here, as a result of the inspection regime, that costs escalate and there is an incentive to leave barriers in place for months or years arises, unchecked by National Highways:

Inspecting ‘Temp VRS’ requires a vehicle and people. Charged per hour, it is not uncommon to see the task charged at 2 hours for attendance and departure. Costs are raised for 2 operatives (£30/hr each) in a van (£15/hr) i.e. £150 for driving past 100m of barrier at 30mph …. less than 8 seconds. Undertaken 3 times per day, £450. For a month … £13,500 or more (see below) Some ‘temp’ VRS is in place for over a year!

• Firstly, there is no need to check 3-times / day

• Secondly, the conduct seems to be ‘put in place and forget’; why bother attending to the repair when you can receive excessive ‘money for a short old rope’?

As for these operatives, they cost the contractor no more to undertake the inspection visit.  They are likely undertaking their daily patrol when passing the barrier, likely a road monitoring journey already paid for by National Highways out of the public purse in the monthly lump sum payment the contractor receives!

Arguably, at about £500/day, it is not in the contractor’s interest for the repair to occur, so why would it?

The situation appears akin to the bad ol’ days of credit hire when vehicles were provided to non-fault Third-Parties; a car supplied, the hire company sat back, content to see their reward accumulate day after day.

There appears to be no deterrent to the above process and our concerns have been ignored by the Authority for years. This recklessness associated with public funds is evidenced in many matters we consider. For example, having raised the issue in one claim, Highways England only thought to review their contractor’s bill AFTER making payment – presumably this examination was at further cost to the public purse! The findings of the Authority’s own expert were unsurprising to us; unsupportable, excessive charges:

In possession of the expert’s report, we are aware the Authority overpaid by more than £100,000 on this one claim alone.

Is it any wonder the Authority’s Green Claims Handlers encounter resistance from us to their demands for payment in full! We have yet to encounter a correctly priced claim.