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Tories would tighten the screw on Highways Agency procurement

The Conservative Party has vowed to place the Highways Agency under increased scrutiny if elected, as part of a drive to increase value for money from the roads sector.

Speaking at the NCE Road Summit last week, shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the “catastrophic state of the nation’s balance sheet” would lead to an emphasis on improving procurement.

“It is crucial for whatever government is in power to seek to get better value for money,” she said. “We certainly want to encourage the Highways Agency to get better value for money and we’re open to looking at whether it can
be run in a different way.”

She said that her party would seek a study of how contracts were procured in other European countries to combat rising maintenance costs.

A National Audit Office report last October identified an 11 per cent above inflation increase in the agency’s routine maintenance costs since 2002/3.

Ms Villiers suggested that roads spending under a Tory government would be focused on improving the existing network rather than on new roads. But she said no budgets could be determined before the party had “seen the books”.

“It would be unwise to start promising extra money because we all know government departments will be facing cuts.”

The shadow minister said her party wanted to see increased use of technology on roads but that she was sceptical about the value taxpayers would see from managed motorways schemes.

Ms Villiers also branded the M25 widening project “expensive” and questioned whether schemes of that scale would be affordable in the future.

However, she said that money from the Transport Innovation Fund could be freed up for local schemes even if they did not include usage charges.

She added that schemes with potential for private sector investment, linked to future toll revenues, would have better business cases in the future.