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Agency must tighten leash on contractors

Report tells Highways Agency to prioritise work and keep an eye on inflated prices

THE HIGHWAYS Agency has been told it must exert more control over the maintenance of England's motorway and main road network.

The National Audit Office report, Maintaining England's Motorways and Trunk Roads, which was released on Monday, said the agency was not correctly prioritising road maintenance work.

It added there was no way to ensure work was being carried out at the right time because of poor information gathering by the agency and its contractors.

The report said £51 million worth of small capital maintenance projects are allocated to contractors each year with no specification of urgency. There are also no controls to prevent contractors submitting inflated prices for the work.

The agency said it will bring in a system of project ranking in April next year to improve work programming.

Fears were also raised over the Managing Agent Contractor contract which combines the role of the managing agent and term maintenance under one deal. The report said there was a risk that combining the roles removed independent supervision of work.

It also said care must be taken to ensure contractors working for the agency under framework contracts do not put in artificially high target prices for work before carrying it out at a lower price in the knowledge that they would benefit from any cost savings.

The report also found that too much money was being spent on maintenance projects in the south-west of England while the north-west was suffering from the poorest road conditions.

But it added that the quality of the road network had improved since the NAO's last survey in the 1990s. It also said that, while the agency's information reporting was not yet up to scratch, it was going to great lengths to improve the situation.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said: 'The report identifies areas for further improvement. The agency accepts most of these, and we are already acting to strengthen our processes and improve our delivery.'