Smart Motorways ‘ ‘Follow the Money[1]

  • Why do motorways (as opposed to ‘minor’ roads) have ‘hard shoulders’?
  • Why are refuges required on ‘smart’ motorways?

Motorway design has incorporated a safe (or safer) place to stop for decades.  Is there any doubt these shelters are required; provide protection, safety, a primary concern for Highways England … and probably is?  I suspect many civil servants know and are concerned these roads are now more frightening and dangerous to those who venture on them because vehicles will stop in live lanes, with nowhere to go, lacking options,  Cars stop for many reasons:

  • Vehicles faults occur, result in breakdown, immobility
  • Roads are poorly maintained; litter and debris is rife giving rise to unexpected ‘incidents’
  • Collisions occur – distracted driving as an example, is widespread
  • increased traffic, higher vehicle concentration means potentially more incidents.

If vehicles presence increases and driving behaviour remains static, a relative increase in incidents (collisions, spills or fires) is a logical outcome.  Removal of the hard shoulder does not reduce the volume of traffic but arguably has adversely affected driving behaviour; confusion has arisen.

There is argument for better hard shoulders and monitoring, not their removal.  The decision to remove the safe haven being financial (cheaper than widening), it is difficult not to conclude a value has been placed on a road user’s life; it is less than the cost of widening[2].

But berate Highways England until breathless; they are not in control and unlikely to break ranks. Those pulling the strings are not civil servants working ‘for the people’ but corporations, shareholder and profit driven (not in itself condemned) occasionally, profiteering.  The ‘working for the people’ Authority has been usurped by some looking for the quick buck.  With regard to EM Highway Services Limited, arguably commencing in 2014, pre-sale to Kier (Kier Highways Ltd.).

Highways England have themselves to blame.  They permitted contractors to take over, become indispensable.   Some suppliers demanded obviously inflated costs from those unfortunate enough to cause damage to road structures or the surface. 1,000’s of incidents, exaggerated by £1,000’s … Highways England allowed overcharging, assisted it, going so far as to keep a relevant section of the contract secret from those to whom the section applied – until we discovered it 01/2017.

We set out the contract non-compliance to the Authority.  But their enquiries, involving ‘a lot of effort’ and audit by KPMG, failed to stop conduct that, in one respect, was ‘undoubtably fraud’.

Years of concerns were ignored, buried and the messenger the subject of ‘attack’.  But by 2020, this brazen Authority, adopting bully in the playground antics, had issued many proceedings that awaited court airing.  A Judge heard two specimen matters during which Highways England’s own witness was the star of the show causing the Judge to write:

‘ …  his evidence was to the effect that the costs calculated for the purposes of the claim did include uplifts for which he was unable to find authority within the contract.

Since at least 2014, £millions have been inappropriately wrested from drivers, fleets, hauliers or their insurers.

Our overstatement allegations vindicated, there are other implications of the contractor’s conduct. One is the false claim cost & recovery information the contractor has conveyed to Highways England. Another, the Authority’s inability to identify this, or standing by, permitting it.  The contractor is to provide the Authority figures calculated by reference to the contractually agreed process.  But Kier have not been using the process ergo, the data provided to the Authority is false.

At the very least, I would expect the Authority to ask ‘why are we receiving overstated, incorrect figures?’ and ‘why is Kier convincing us they are suffering a loss when it appears they are profiting (profiteering)?’ But no, Highways England is silent on this issue too.

Our enquiries and evidence touch upon a relatively small part of contractor and Authority work.  But like the shoplifter who, when caught, pleads it is their first such act, is it reasonable to believe this deceitful behaviour undertaken under the wing of Highways England does not extend to other spheres of their joint activity?

It appears Highways England, complicit in the contractor’s conduct, are so compromised as to be ineffectual; that the tail wags the dog.

What faith can be placed their statements or those of the DfT in support of Smart Motorways, the Stonehenge Tunnel or other projects?

[1] “Follow the money” is a catchphrase popularized by the 1976 docudrama film All the President’s Men, which suggests political corruption can be brought to light by examining money transfers between parties.

[2] mathematical equations encourage us to reduce the value of humans to the limitations of society, rather than improving society to treat everyone as though they were priceless.


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