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Highways England mulls changes to £7bn Routes to Market framework

Highways England is considering a number of changes to the way it procures work as part of its £7bn Routes to Market framework.

Chief executive Jim O’Sullivan told Construction News that Highways England was consulting with contractors over the structure of the framework and that a number of changes were being considered.

Potential changes include the procuring of major roads projects outside of the framework.

Mr O’Sullivan said the size and scale of schemes such as the Lower Thames Crossing and the A303 tunnel made it an obvious step for the organisation to take.

He also confirmed that mini-bids were likely to be scrapped and replaced with a system of allocation based on the successful delivery of previous jobs.

“If you deliver the last job to budget, to quality and to time, then we will try to roll it on to the next job,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“If you are in a particular lot, then we will simply allocate the next job to the most successful contractor or team.”

He said Highways England was also looking at new ways of dividing the Routes to Market framework and was keen to add more flexibility to the lots.

Its existing Collaborative Delivery Framework is divided into lots organised by project value, with the smallest covering work up to and including £25m and the highest comprising projects between £100m and £450m.

Mr O’Sullivan said the organisation was reviewing whether lots based strictly on project values was the most efficient way to move forward.

“We recognise that it is not a straight line correlation between complexity and size; a smaller complex project may find itself in the wrong lot if you are working on the basis of capital value,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

He added that there had also been situations on the current framework where five £20m projects, which could have been procured as a £100m job, were instead divided between contractors across different lots.

“It is those sorts of anomalies I think we need to address; it is about finding the right contractor for the right job.”

In July, Construction News reported that Highways England could add two to three new contractors to the £7bn framework.

Mr O’Sullivan confirmed that was still the intention and it was engaging with firms not currently on CDF.

“We have had conversations with a number of suppliers who are either small players in the market or not playing in the market at all,” he said.

“We have had them on the collaboration board and said, ‘This is what Routes to Market looks like, what do you think?’”

Construction News understands that Colas and Spanish contractors Acciona are among the firms currently eyeing up the extra spots on the £7bn framework.

Interserve, which is in CDF’s lowest value lot, has also told Construction News that it will bid for higher-value work on the Routes to Market deal.

Construction News was talking with Mr O’Sullivan before the government announced it would be spending more than £1.3bn on the UK’s roads network.

As part of the investment plans, £220m will be spent on strategic roads and A-roads through Highways England.

Speaking before the announcement, Mr O’Sullivan said Highways England had identified around £100m projects outside of the Roads Investment Strategy that could be delivered with extra Treasury cash.

He said these were made up of 30-40 junction improvement schemes the organisation believed it could deliver, with the majority being small junction improvements that could provide quick returns for the economy.

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