2 Maintaining the road networks |
11. We welcome the progress the Department and the
Agency have made in improving the way in which road maintenance
is carried out. We heard about the Department's Highways Maintenance
Efficiency Programme which it set up in 2011 to help local authorities
become more cost-effective in response to the budget reductions
in the Spending Review 2010.
The Agency has introduced new contracts and strengthened its central
decision making since our last report on road maintenance in 2010.
12. It is clear to us that in order to get best value
for money, highways authorities need to focus on planned preventative
maintenance. The Department told us that too many local highway
authorities react to events instead of anticipating and preventing
disrepair. According to the Audit Commission it can cost three
times as much to reconstruct a road that has been allowed to fail
than it does to carry out preventative maintenance. In particular,
significant costs in later years can be saved by preventing water
from penetrating the road surface and damaging supporting structures
Despite the importance of planning we heard that at least 45 local
highway authorities did not have an asset management plan when
surveyed in early 2014. The Agency has an asset management plan
but it does not cover the whole life of its assets although it
is currently trialling the development of a 30-year plan in its
East Midlands Area.
13. Neither the Department nor the Agency were able
to tell us how much it should cost to maintain the road networks,
because of a lack of evidence about how road infrastructure deteriorates
over time and the costs of different maintenance activities.
The Agency has no information on 70% of its drainage systems and
many local highway authorities have incomplete inventories of
their bridges, drains, footways and street lighting. Some local
authorities have invested in information about what assets they
own and their condition but this is not universal.
14. The Department explained that most local highways
authorities have an understanding of how road surfaces deteriorate
over time but this does not extend to other types of infrastructure.
We heard that the Agency had predicted future demands for resurfacing
based on its knowledge of road surfaces.
The Agency is also making progress on understanding how best to
maintain its structures, although this work is not yet complete.
It is also working to understand the costs of maintenance better.
Many local highway authorities would like more help from the Department
to understand the factors that drive maintenance costs and to
quantify the benefits of preventative maintenance.
15. We challenged the Department and the Agency on
why most road maintenance work is carried out in the winter months
which is less efficient due to longer nights and cold and wet
weather. The Department and the Agency explained that while local
highway authorities are at liberty to carry their main funding
from the Department forward to future years, the Highways Agency
cannot do this. The Agency told us that even though the Department
confirms its budget in December of the preceding financial year,
it is then unable to get design and planning work done quickly
enough to avoid an increase in spending towards the end of the
financial year. For example, the Agency spent less than 3% of
its annual maintenance expenditure in April 2011 but this increased
to 21% spent in the following March.
16. The Department told us that its Highways Maintenance
Efficiency Programme has raised the profile of good asset management
principles with local highway authorities.
We questioned why not all local highway authorities are taking
advantage of the guidance and toolkits it provides, for example
on areas such as pothole repair and managing drainage assets.
The Department told us that it recognises that there is a need
to target the Programme at those local authorities that most need
to improve road maintenance efficiency. It told us that the most
effective way to raise performance was to encourage local highway
authorities to find their own solutions through the Programme,
rather than the Department telling authorities what to do.
17. However we questioned the Department about how
it uses it's funding to incentivise local highway authorities
to become more efficient, for example to become better at planning
or to collaborate more with each other. The Department told us
that it has introduced some incentives in relation to how it allocates
its Pothole Fund (of around £170 million), but the mechanism
for allocating the Department's main funding for local highway
authorities (£779 million in 2012-13) does not include rewards
for better performers or penalties for the least efficient. The
Department told us that it is planning to issue a consultation
this summer on how best to allocate its £976 million a year
funding for 2015-16 to 2020-21.
18. The Department told us that the Highways Maintenance
Efficiency Programme also encourages local highway authorities
to work together. Two thirds are now members of highways alliances
which allow them to share best practice and reduce costs through
shared procurement arrangements. The new London Highways Alliance
Contract also enables participating highways authorities to benchmark
the four main contractors' prices and performance against each
other. However, a substantial number of local highway authorities
still work alone so do not get the benefits of collaboration.
The Agency provided an additional example of collaboration, describing
how it works with the highway authorities in Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland to identify and share good practice.
23 Qq 1, 8, 47-49; C&AG's Report, para 17 Back
Q1; C&AG's Report, paras 1.21-1.24, 2.13-2.14; Committee of Public Accounts, Highways Agency: Contracting for Highways Maintenance, Fourth Report of Session 2009-10, HC 188, 7 January 2010
Qq 7; C&AG's Report, paras 2.3, 2.16 Back
Q 32; C&AG's Report, para 2.4 Back
Qq 1, 3-4, 49, 61-62 Back
Qq 2, 3; C&AG's Report, paras 2.11-2.12 Back
Qq 2, 3, 7, 60 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.15 Back
Q 61 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.23 Back
Qq 10, 15, 20, 26-28; C&AG's Report, Figure 14 Back
Qq 8, 22, 48 Back
Qq 32, 47; C&AG's Report, paras 17, 1.26 Back
Qq 44-48 Back
Qq 22, 32, 39-41, 47-48; C&AG's Report, paras 16, 1.7, 2.21 Back
Qq 8, 32, 47-48, 66; C&AG's Report, paras 15, 1.30-1.31, Figure 9 Back
Qq 54-57 Back