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Highways England beats target for efficiency savings but much more needed

21 Jul 17 Highways England’s performance is good but needs to be better. That is the conclusion of its regulator’s latest annual assessment.

ORR inspectors check out a Highways England roadbuilding site
ORR inspectors check out a Highways England roadbuilding site

Every year the Office of Rail & Raid publishes an audit of Highways England’s performance against a raft of key performance indicators. This is one of the more significant changes since the transformation of the old Highways Agency into a government-owned company in April 2015. ORR’s Annual Assessment of Highways England’s Performance: April 2016 – March 20171 was published this week.

Compared to other road networks casualty rates are low, and it is keeping traffic flowing while delivering major improvements. It is starting to be more efficient in the way it delivers

Highways England spent £3.1bn in 2016-17, including £2bn of capital investment. The company has reported £135m of capital efficiencies during the year, bringing the total to £169m for Road Period 1 (April 2015 to March 2020), which is £30m more than it had targeted.

But it has to deliver at least £1.2bn of efficiency improvements by 2020. Reported efficiencies in the first two years represent 14% of this target so considerable work still remains to achieve the key performance indicator requirement.

Highways England must progress 112 major improvement schemes during the first road period. In 2016-17, it planned to start construction on four schemes and open eight to traffic. It has started works on the four schemes as planned, one of which started ahead of schedule. In addition, it started construction on four schemes that were previously scheduled to start in 2019-20. This includes combining two adjacent schemes that were originally planned with different timetables but which will now be delivered as one to reduce the impact and delays caused by roadworks.

Highways England opened six of the planned eight schemes to traffic during the year. Two were delayed. It also opened an additional scheme, which was originally planned for completion in 2017-18.

Highways England has missed its targets on road user satisfaction and network condition.

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It is putting in place plans to address shortfalls. These and other areas of performance need continued focus to deliver future targets.

Road user satisfaction with the strategic road network was 89.1% in 2016-17. This is below the target of 90%, but in line with performance in the previous year.

At the end of 2016-17, the proportion of network in good condition was at 94.3%, against a target of 95%.

Highways England has further work to do to improve its asset management, the ORR report says. It must demonstrate that it is efficiently planning and delivering the right maintenance and renewals work to keep its network in good condition.

Highways England also continues to have challenges in delivering a stable programme of renewals, according to the ORR. In 2016-17, there was again a large increase in renewals activity in the final quarter of the year, when the company sought to catch up on under-delivery earlier in the year, and make use of funding available from paused work on the M20 lorry park. The company recognises that there is scope for further efficiency improvements through smoothing its monthly profile of work and has taken account of this in its 2017-18 business planning.

ORR chief executive Joanna Whittington said: “Highways England has three main priorities: safety of road users and road workers, road user satisfaction, and delivery of the 5-year investment plan. The company will need to continue to work hard to achieve all three of these, while keeping on top of maintenance and renewals and meeting its £1.2bn savings target by 2020.

“We nevertheless welcome the company’s response to our concerns over the need to develop better plans for major improvement schemes. Highways England has also responded positively to recommendations from our in-depth review of how it manages its assets. Improvements that the company is planning in these areas will help deliver a better experience for road users and cost savings for taxpayers.”


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