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Sat May 08 2021

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Highways Agency abandons ASC model in East Midlands

11 Feb 15 The Highways Agency has set out a new timetable for re-tendering the five asset support contracts (ASCs) whose procurement was recently halted but is moving to a new system for one region.

In the East Midlands the ASC approach is being scrapped altogether in favour of a more traditional approach that separates design contracts from routine maintenance work and construction.

Contractors’ bids submitted for asset support contracts in Area 12 (Yorkshire) and Area 4 (Kent and Sussex) were binned last December when the documentation was found to be flawed. Bidding for Areas 1 (Devon & Cornwall), 13 (Cumbria & Lancashire) and 14 (Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Durham and North Yorkshire) was scrapped last week. [See previous report here.]

All bids submitted were so at variance with what the Highways Agency was expecting to hear that, rather than just seek clarification or additional information from bidders, as is common in procurement, it suspended the entire process to return to invitation to tender with new specifications.

Under the new timetable, revised documentation will be sent to bidding contractors by mid-March for Areas 4 and 12 and by the end of June for Areas 1, 13 and 14. Contract documentation is being re-drafted at the Highways Agency in a bid to eliminate earlier problems. The Highways Agency is not saying publicly what changes have to be made, citing commerical restrictions.

The Highways Agency has also revealed that it is moving to a different approach for procuring highway maintenance work in Area 7 (East Midlands) and the ASC tender documents are being scrapped. In what appears to be a return to the traditional way of doing things, design, routine maintenance and construction work will be separated into different contracts. Greater control and oversight will be brought back in house.

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“This approach will sit alongside existing maintenance contracts, which operate across the rest of our network,” a spokesperson for the Highways Agency said. He said that the East Midlands area was "the most advanced in asset management planning owing to development work carried out over the past year".

The Highways Agency spokesperson said:  “We are committed to continually driving improvement in how our roads are maintained; improved and operated so that we can provide the best possible quality of service to road users. As we go forward we will be using contract arrangements that best suit the particular type of work required.

“Asset support contracts are one key part of the Agency’s ability to successfully deliver its objectives and we have successfully awarded six such contracts which are now operational in various parts of the country. We believe that by incorporating lessons learnt from our experience of these we will be able to award further ones which will be able to fully support the delivery of a significant increase in investment over the next five years. The procurement programme for the existing asset support contracts will continue with a revised timetable with Areas 4 and 12 being invited to tender by mid-March and areas 1, 13 and 14 by the end of June.”

In what appears to be an admission of previous shortcomings, he added:  “At the same time we recognise we need to take more ownership of investment decisions and increase our intelligence on local factors that influence where work is most needed. This will also help drive down cost, remove waste and provide the best possible value for money for taxpayers.

“We have an opportunity to do that where a contract is coming to the end of its term in the East Midlands, and so we will review the way that we work with our supply chain there to deliver maintenance and small improvements by separating how we manage and run design, routine maintenance and construction.”

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