Today (21 August 2020) Highways England published its strategic business plan and delivery plan for the second road period. In these documents, Highways England shows how it is planning to deliver what government specified in "RIS2" – the second road investment strategy which covers 2020-25.
As Highways Monitor, we have been involved at different stages in the RIS-setting process, primarily though our 'Efficiency Review' of an earlier version of Highways England's plans, which we published earlier this year.
The scope of our efficiency review was to assess the level of challenge and deliverability in the company's draft plans, with a particular focus on proposed efficiency gains. Those plans had good supporting evidence in many areas and represented a real improvement on the plans produced for the first road period.
It is encouraging that much has remained from earlier versions, including a strong focus on safely operating, maintaining and renewing the existing network. It is also good to see that the recommendations from our review, particularly the scope for Highways England to deliver £600m of additional cost reductions and efficiency savings, have been carried through into Highways England's final strategic business plan and delivery plan for road period 2.
One of the main changes has been to the smart motorways programme. There was a question mark around all the smart motorways projects in RIS2, pending the outcome of DfT's evidence stocktake and action plan. Highways England's plans published today set out the actions it will take, and the associated timescales, in response.
The delivery plan also gives the milestones for major projects and planned volumes for major renewals deliverables. Together, these provide an important baseline that we will monitor Highways England against, and hold the company to account for delivering.
Impact of Covid-19
The publication of these plans continues the transition from the first to the second road period, which has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In some regards the pandemic has made identifying the impacts on monitoring Highways England’s delivery clearer. However, at an appropriate point Highways England, DfT and ORR will need to jointly take stock of the package for both the remainder of the road period and beyond.
Learning from RIS1
As well as looking forward to how and what we will monitor over the next five years, we have also been looking back at how Highways England has performed, and what the whole roads reform process has achieved, over the last five.
In July we published our annual assessment of Highways England's performance and delivery of its investment plan, covering the first road period, from April 2015 to March 2020.
It showed that over the last five years Highways England has made good progress and we have seen it meeting almost all of the targets it was set. We have pushed Highways England hard to deliver on safety, efficiency and meeting the needs of road users.
Highways England’s task is going to get bigger, as it needs to deliver a larger programme of works set out in the Government’s 2020 Road Investment Strategy, and we will continue to provide close scrutiny.