As part of the spending review settlement in October 2010, the then Secretary of State agreed to commission an independent review to examine whether Government have the right approach to operating, maintaining and enhancing the strategic road network. Alan Cook, the non-executive chairman of the Highways Agency, led this review and his report “A Fresh Start for the Strategic Road Network” was published in November 2011. I am very grateful to Alan for his work on the study, and to the many stakeholders who offered advice and supported this process.
Today I am publishing my response to this review. I am also publishing the terms of reference for the study which the Prime Minister has asked my Department and HM Treasury to carry out, into the feasibility of new ownership and financing models for the strategic road network. This will build on the evidence provided in Alan Cook’s report on the efficiency savings which have been made in the regulated utilities, and will test whether similar savings can be made through a different structure for managing the road network. The study will develop options for bringing more private sector involvement into the strategic road network, generating increased investment and driving further efficiencies in the network.
Nevertheless, we do not need to wait for the conclusions of the feasibility study before making progress on a specific set of reforms as recommended by Alan Cook, which are both worth while in their own right and essential precursors to any future structural reform.
My announcement today constitutes the first stage in an ambitious integrated programme for reforming the road network to ensure that ultimately we deliver a more effective and efficient strategic road network, which enhances the experience of motorists and puts the road users and communities which rely on this network at its very heart.
I have carefully considered Alan’s recommendations and solutions and my response sets out how the Government intend to take these forward in parallel with the feasibility study. I am accepting, in detail or in principle, many of the actions which Alan recommends that I or the board of the Highways Agency should take. At this stage, the area where I am not progressing Alan’s recommendation is on the question of changing the status of the agency within the public sector. I do not propose to make decisions on the agency’s status ahead of the feasibility study concluding and the Government taking decisions on the future reform of the roads network.
In my response to Alan’s report, I set out a programme of work to transform the agency into a best-in-class executive agency by:
Delivering a long- term strategy and setting an outcome performance specification for the strategic road network, providing far greater clarity about what Government wants, as well as a basis for consistent and transparent challenge to the Highways Agency to deliver against this specification.
Championing the road user. I am determined to ensure that the voice of the user is listened to and championed. I will be bringing a stronger “consumer focus” to the concerns of users and to respond to those through the setting of the performance specification.
A much smarter approach to planning through the production of route-based strategies. These documents will set out investment plans to inform our decisions for the next spending review and will support much greater participation in planning for the network from local and regional stakeholders.
Work towards smarter financial relationships with Government. We are not accepting in full Alan’s recommendation about funding certainty and ending annuality, but we do propose to work closely with the Highways Agency and HM Treasury to consider the evidence for embedding greater certainty and flexibility into the funding regime of the strategic road network. This will help to inform any future decisions we may make on changes to the funding regime in any operating or ownership model for the network.
In advance of the conclusions of the feasibility study on ownership models, this immediate programme of work will deliver real progress towards a better performing strategic road network, with a clear strategic purpose, transparent expectations on performance, locally grounded investments plans, and a real consumer-focused culture.