Today’s publication of our first six month report on Highways England’s performance is - if you’ll excuse the pun – a major milestone.
For Highways England, it’s the first public statement of how far they have come after six months of existence. For the ORR, and the Highways team in particular, it’s our first major report on Highways England’s performance since we took on responsibility for monitoring the company in April this year.
Most importantly, though, it’s the first time that road users – be they business or private – are being given a snapshot of how Highways England is progressing in delivering a £15bn investment programme for England’s strategic road network – the motorways and major ‘A’ roads. That’s a significant amount of public money, and the plans it is funding are ambitious, so it’s crucial that the company’s performance is reported transparently.
Our view is that overall, the company has made a positive start in its new role and we are conscious that the company has delivered that whilst dealing with substantial change during the transitional period since they were established. Despite that challenge, it has made significant progress in setting out its plans and strategies.
We’re pleased to note that performance of the network is generally good, and that efforts to keep lanes open and clear up incidents efficiently – important factors in keeping traffic flowing smoothly – have exceeded expectations. The surface of the motorways and main roads is in a good condition, and the company has pushed forward to set out a strategy on biodiversity; this critical piece of planning has rightly been delivered at the beginning of the process. We also welcome the emphasis that the company is placing on the views of road users.
However, the report indicates some areas where we feel the company needs to focus if it is to meet its challenging targets. On safety of drivers and those who work on the roads, the recent statistics indicate that work is needed. This is a crucial area, with complex issues to tackle, on which the company will need to concentrate attention to meet the engineering challenges, as well as influencing driver behaviour.
Additionally, whilst good progress has been made in delivering the capital investment programme for 2015 16, we would like further detail and clarity on Highways England’s plans.
We will continue to monitor the company’s performance on these areas, as well as the other key measures set out in our infographic.
Our reports on Highways England’s operational and financial performance and progress are publicly available and transparent, and provide clarity on the performance of Highways England. We recently published our approach to monitoring Highways England which articulates when and how we will assess performance and efficiency, and how we will report on progress. That framework, and our forthcoming enforcement policy, partly reflect ORR’s expertise and experience as rail regulator – I’m pleased that we’ve built an expert Highways team at operational and leadership levels to realise the synergies available to the ORR as the joint rail and road regulator.
The next milestone will come in summer 2016, when we will publish the first annual assessment of Highways England’s performance, efficiency and delivery. Until then, we will keep working with the company and stakeholders in the industry, supply chain, and groups representing drivers, riders and freight users. The ORR's role in supporting Highways England to deliver against its commitments is a crucial one, and we look forward to working with the industry as we further develop our monitoring over the months and years to come.