01/2019 Highways England were forced to claim that, for 5+ years, they have (and still have on ASC – contracts) no schedule of rates agreed with the contractors for repairs to the strategic road network.

Despite years of us challenging contractor rates, of explaining the systematic exaggeration of claims which, in some respects have amounted to fraud*, the Authority now says ‘we have no schedule for Damage to Crown Property (DCP) works.

Seemingly every invoice issued by the contractor and paid by the Authority, cannot be supported by agreed rates. Instead, a ‘finger in the air’ approach is adopted; the charges look reasonable, the invoice paid.  Even if there is a set of rates (which we believe), these are not used as it would be prohibitively expensive to do so.

Even the ICO appears perplexed about the ‘not held’ stance, that if an FoIA request for the data sought DCP rates as opposed to ASC contract definitions it would appear that HE’s response that such information does not exist is incorrect, as in a previous Decision, it was ruled that DCP rates do in fact exist but they are commercially sensitive.  

  • The above request was for DCP Rates … they exist!

This is a reason for NSORC; the attempt to implement a charging process, to reinforce the statement that currently no schedule exists. However, NSORC has floundered because it appears, the Authority does not understand the environment in which it works.

*Fraud – ‘exaggeration of rates’ & non-existent costs being sought

We had suggested such a process to the Authority’s CEO in 2018 – a copy of our email can be read here.

04/06/2019 Our Ref: 255896

“I have been informed by Highways that they commissioned an independent investigation into pricing in Area 9. The investigation revealed a lack of transparency in the pricing of Green Claims in Area 9, citing the lack in the Asset Support Contract of any schedule of rate for third party repairs.

The review was widened to do a root and branch review to improve the end to end process for the recovery of Green Claims generally. This review is on-going and it is anticipated that a final report will be produced later this year although it is not possible to confirm a precise date at this moment in time.”

Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 4DR

However, we raised concerns about the stated lack of rates with the National Audit office who then met Highway England.  The NAO’s record of the meeting can be read here. Of note is the following: 

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

However, when Highways England became aware of this, the Authroity employee seemingly conveying this information to the NAO (believed to be Ms Sharon McCarthy –  Director for Corporate Assurance) was quick to point out

  • Unfortunately, she was not clear in her description of the correct position with regard to these matters.

Mrs McCarthy wrote to the NAO and a copy of the letter can be read here.

Having reviewed the NAO’s meeting note, and the letter to Mr Swift,  unfortunately, I wasn’t clear in my description of the correct position with regard to the matters in hand

The meeting was about DCP Rates, that was what Mrs McCarthy was asked to address and it appears that is precisely what occurred.  However, on learning the damning information was to be used in Tribunal proceedings, Mrs McCarthy was quick to try and undo the damage caused.

19/09/2019 from Jim O’Sullivan @ highwaysengland.co.uk 
Re:  information sought in the usual course of business or FoIA pertaining to 04/01/2019 & 15/02/3019 conversations

Dear Mr Swift

I acknowledge receipt of your email of 17 September.

I am not going to respond on the detail of your email, but on your central point I have always been very clear with you that I share some of your concerns about the transparency of repair costs for damage to the network. By and large, the Asset Support Contracts don’t assist precisely because they do not specify the labour and equipment rates to be used for emergency/unplanned repairs. In those circumstances the legal constraint is that the costs have to be reasonable.

While the situation is improved by the adoption of Asset Delivery, the difficulties of reconciling the different perceptions of what is reasonable for particular repairs in what is in practice a very complex area has led us to publishing a National Schedule of Repair Costs for typical repairs.

We firmly believe the costs set out in that schedule are eminently reasonable. And while the level of granularity in the schedule is something we continue to look at, we do think it provides a level of transparency and consistency which has hitherto been absent.

Yours sincerely

Jim O’Sullivan
Chief Executive
Highways England

31/10/2019 … NSORC suspended.