The Transport Committee has said that while a long-term approach to road infrastructure funding is welcome, transforming the Highways Agency (HA) into a publically-owned company along the lines of Network Rail is unlikely to boost its effectiveness.
Writing to Robert Goodwill MP, the Department for Transport minister in charge of the Highways Agency on the eve of a ministerial briefing on the transformation, Transport Committee chairman Louise Ellman said she wasn’t convinced that the plans laid out in last year’s Action for Roads command paper would achieve the £600m of savings at the HA claimed by 2020/21.
“In principle, we welcome the five-year funding packages for infrastructure, which should facilitate long-term planning,” writes Ellman.
However, she adds that despite Goodwill’s assertion in February to the committee that a transformed HA would be able to offer higher salaries to attract a wider range of experienced recruits, “we [the committee] received no evidence to substantiate the claim that the agency finds it hard to compete for staff in the international labour market [at present]”.
Ellman adds that given the HA’s remit will not be expanded under the proposed transformation, which was consulted on last autumn, the advertised benefits seem achievable through better management of the existing set-up.
“We note your statement that this change is not a precursor either to privatisation or charging for roads at the point of use,” writes Ellman. “Therefore, we see no reason for the upheaval and expense a change of structure would entail.”