Friday, July 28, 2006

Cruisin With The Highways Agency


What?

"The Agency has no grip on the costs of its major road projects; is managing a property portfolio it should not possess from expensive offices it should not be using; has only a limited idea what some of its staff are actually doing; and has failed to build a constructive dialogue with local communities over road planning."

That's the damning verdict from the HoC Transport Committee on the Highways Agency. (You may feel such a verdict could apply to virtually any organ of government; Ms Dunwoody couldn't possibly comment).

We've blogged the hopeless £2bn pa HA before (here), and it's attracted a regular stream of rock-bottom report cards over the years (eg last year's NAO report). In terms of the story so far, you will recall when Prezza was put "in charge" of transport in 1997, he ludicrously promised to cut traffic congestion without the need to build more roads (see previous blog). After that particular wishful thought collapsed, his successor executed a panicky U-turn into a new £7bn road programme, never a recipe for good value.

This latest report gives us an update on the programme's shocking lack of cost control. For projects which entered the HA's "Targeted Programme of Improvements" before 2003, construction cost overruns are likely to push up final costs by 50% , and the portents for later projects are not good. The Committee estimates a combined overrun of maybe £2bn, and starkly concludes the Highways Agency "has lost budgetary control".

Well, that's just brilliant.

Other snippets of incompetence: HA has only "a rough idea" how many administrators it employs, or how much time its staff spend on administration; HA doesn't know whether its experiment with 1,000 deskilled "Traffic Officers" patrolling motorways instead of police has been a success; "the HA has 29 full time staff managing property contracts. This is 29 too many. The Committee has not seen any justification however why the Highways Agency, which is in the roads business, should have a property portfolio at all."

Guh.

PS I've been trying the Opposites Test on "Targeted Programme of Improvements". Is there an untargeted programme? Is there a programme of worsening? I think we should be told.

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