Highways England or National Audit Office Incompetence?

Having presented our concerns about Highways England to the National Audit Office (NAO), they took the matter up with Highways England.

14/05/2019, the NAO met Ms. Sharon McCarthy of the Authority and wrote to us 2 days letter explaining what had been conveyed.  An extract reads:

Based on the information you supplied, we made inquiries with Highways England. The company explained that they have two main maintenance contract models in use:

  • the original Asset Support Contract (ASC), which is in the process of being phased out and replaced with:
  • the Asset Delivery model (AD).
  • In the former contract model, a schedule of rates is included,

The ASC has a schedule of rates, the information we have sought and which as bene withheld.

The NAO went further.  They had not just established the existence of rates, they also discussed the application of these rates, the process that we understood to be applicable:

 and this (schedule of rates) should be used as the basis for the calculation of costs for claims above and below the £10,000 threshold. 

Full response here –NAO 16052019 GF 1231 19

Should be‘ used is telling’ Kier Highways had not complied with the contract in Area 9 since they commenced managing the Area 07/2014 – and Highways England enabled, permitted this.

The response further contradicted Highways England’s account ‘no schedule exists‘, evidencing concealment of the schedule.  This is a serious matter.  We therefore returned to the NAO for a copy of their meeting record to corroborate the account.  In accordance with FoIA, the note was produced and can be read here – FOI-1249 Doc for release_Redacted

The note of the meeting includes the statement:

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

So there you have it:

  • there is a schedule of rates included with ASC’s and
  • the schedule should be used when billing HE and TP’s – the rates are common to both. A clean, simple process.

Of course a schedule of costs exists, in the absence of such a price list, neither HE nor a TP could check and reconcile the 1,000’s of invoices presented to them for payment for more than 5 years!  The NAO response is just one element supporting the existence of the information – further references can be found here.

Highways England’s response to the National Audit Office’s letter just two days after the 14/05/2019 meeting, compiled by reference to what appears to be an ‘original note’ …

11/07/2019, almost 2 months after the meeting, Ms. McCarthy has a clear recollection; the content of the NAO letter is incorrect, the notes of the meeting made by the NAO result from a misunderstanding, there is no schedule.

As for the ICO, they do not appear to have:

  • sought a copy of Ms McCarthy’s note of the meeting – presumably, Ms McCarthy did not bother to keep one?
  • sought explanation/response from the NAO

Instead, they accepted Ms. McCarthy’s account – there is no schedule of rates.

What of the NAO?  The purpose of writing to them was to raise concerns.  These issues were negated by HE’s stated responses at the meeting  ‘ASC’s have a schedule of (DCP) rates’.  Yet, not only did the NAO seemingly fail to address the concerns, but they also did not understand what they were told by Highways England.

Back to square one … with the NAO.

However, whilst Ms. Mccarthy’s clumsy attempts to ‘put the toothpaste back in the tube’, may satisfy some, this is only one facet supporting the existence of rates Highways England are desperate to keep secret.