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Prospect warns against Highways Agency changes

Prospect warns Lords against changes to Highways Agency

Prospect has raised concerns with the House of Lords about government plans to change the Highways Agency from a public entity, accountable to government ministers, into a government-owned company.



The union has sent a briefing to the Lords, which is currently debating the Infrastructure Bill. The bill has two proposals in relation to the Strategic Road Network:

  • create an arm’s length body – the Strategic Highways Company – to manage, maintain and upgrade the strategic road network
  • provide long-term funding through the Road Investment Strategy.

Prospect says that the Highways Agency is already changing internally under the so-called “Transformation Journey”, and additional benefits from changing its status are unclear.

Negotiator John Higgins said: “Much has been made of its future arm’s length status… but the reality is that the new organisation will be a creature of the secretary of state, the only shareholder, and the DfT.”

Prospect fears

Prospect’s concerns about the changes include:

  • They remove the right of the new organisation to object to or place conditions on developments that will adversely impact on the road network. Currently the Highways Agency can intervene and require developers to contribute to the cost of upgrades.
  • The Highways Agency needs to be able to plan and commission work over an extended funding period. The Road Investment Strategy is welcome, but there is no timeframe for it. Currently the agency has a three-year capital spending settlement and Prospect says capital spending periods should mirror Westminster’s fixed five-year parliaments.
  • The bill provides for the Office of Rail Regulation to monitor the performance of the the new company, but with little detail, including how the authority’s economic performance will be judged. One concern is that ORR will use similar economic controls as other regulators to achieve cost reductions.
  • Staff transferred to the SHC will have continuity of service under the Employment Rights Act. But there is no guarantee their terms and conditions will be maintained, with doubts about whether transfer of undertakings (TUPE) regulations will apply. Prospect wants existing terms and conditions protected.
  • The move is seen as a precursor to full-scale privatisation of the Highways Agency, and could pave the way for more road tolls to generate income.

Higgins said: “Prospect is not convinced that the GovCo is either necessary or an effective solution to the challenges facing the Highways Agency.

“However, we believe that savings can by made in the delivery of an improved strategic road network by allowing the agency the security of long–term funding.”

Petition

Please sign and share this petition to the DfT opposing the changes in the Infrastructure Bill.