16/04/2019, I raised specific issues with the NAO that were subsequently addressed by a Director, Matt Kay, Highways England’s auditor. The history of the exchanges appears below but in brief, I was concerned the Authority had failed to address the issues and in turn, NAO audits of the Authority had not identified:
- the lack of pricing schedules in any ASC (contract) from 2012 – because they exist and the Authority is misleading me/others. In the absence of a price list, how could any invoice be reconciled pre-payment? It transpires below £25,000, they are not!
- contractor non-compliance with the contract; Kier had failed to comply with the contract since 2014
- Kier was providing false cost & recovery information to Highways England potentially affecting the public purse; Kier conveyed losses when they were actually profiting (profiteering).
- state-enabled contractor exaggeration and fraud on an industrial scale
Principally, I was concerned that it was evident a schedule of rates for Damage to Crown Property (DCP) rates existed but I was being told by the Authority that it did not – that in every contract (ASC) this had been ‘overlooked’. I raised this 16/04/2019 with the NAO who met with the Authority. Mr Kay was reassured; a schedule of rates exist. He wrote to me to confirm and his meeting note reiterated what he had discussed with the Authority’s Sharon McCarthy; there was a schedule of rates.
But this posed a problem for Highways England who had been telling me there is no schedule of rates thereby preventing me from making an obvious comparison against what was being charged and what should have been. I was prevented from clearly, easily demonstrating the exaggeration and correctly billing DCP works. The problem for the Authority:
- They had responded to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request stating ‘not held’; there was no schedule. They were also the subject fo a s77 enquiry; the criminal offence of ‘withholding’ information
Mr Kay’s meeting notes and letter following a discussion arranged to address the ‘no schedule’ issues was the smoking gun; Ms McCarthy had ‘confessed’.
However, once the Authority became aware I had instigated the NAO meetings and possessed their minutes, it appears they created quickly in an attempt to limit the damage; Ms McCarthy, Dana Bourne and Tim Reardon (the latter from the General Counsel’s department) approached the NAO. The outcome:
There was a misunderstanding; Matt Kay got the wrong end of the stick and was being told by Ms Mccarthy about ‘ASC rates’ – those for preplanned or scheduled works, not ‘DCP rates’ for damage repair … not raised in my complaint.
Matt Kay, who called the meeting to discuss DCP Rates, made notes about these, their application and the process … whilst Ms McCarthy was talking about ASC rates.
Matt appeared unconcerned my complaint was not addressed, that he had gone off at a tangent, recorded erroneous information about another set of rates and failed to address the lack of DCP Rates. The issue was considered serious enough to call a meeting.
Matt accepted the criticism of his conduct, abilities and notes … he had made a mistake, all he had written was worthless, could not be relied upon.
The Authority now have more reason to try and bury the rates … when it is eventually accepted and understood they exist, further questions should be asked about the NAO and their willingness to accept the Authority’s explanation seemingly without question.
The history is as follows;
14/05/2019 Mr Kay’s meeting note
16/05/2019 NAO response letter
28/05/2019 to the National Audit Office
04/06/2019 – email from and to the NAO
11/12/2019 Complaint to NAO re DCP Rates U-Turn
21/01/2020 to NAO re Apparent Inability to Record Fact
11/02/2020 seek to escalate the complaint