DfT launches 'dry run' for highways incentive cash

 

The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a ‘dry run’ self-assessment process for local highways authorities to see where they stand on the forthcoming incentive element to local roads funding.

Councils have been contacted and supplied with a self-assessment questionnaire of 22 questions, a final version of which will be used to reward high performing councils with extra funding from a £578m incentive fund starting next year.

Highways authorities, excluding London, will receive different amounts of cash depending on how they perform, with councils split into bands 1, 2 or 3.

Answers to each question are in turn seperated into levels 1, 2 or 3, with high performing councils put into the higher bands by scoring levels 2 or 3 on at least 15 of the 22 questions. 

The DfT has asked all local highway authorities to submit their completed spreadsheet for the dry run to roadmaintenance@dft.gsi.gov.uk by 31st July 2015.

Following feedback from the process this summer, a final version of the questionnaire will be issued in autumn 2015 and councils are expected to have until the end of November to complete the form.

Highways authorities will be notified of their funding allocation in early 2016, before they plan their maintenance for the 2016/17 financial year, although ministers expect the questionnaire to change little between now and November so councils should have a good idea of where they stand.

Baseline scores for each Band:

Band 1 – does not reach Level 2 or Level 3 in at least 15 of the 22 questions.

Band 2 – must reach Level 2 or Level 3 in at least 15 of the 22 questions.

Band 3 – must reach Level 3 in at least 18 of the 22 questions.

Unveiling the process today, roads minister Andrew Jones said: ‘We have moved on from an approach in which money is handed out purely on the basis of where the need is greatest. Frankly, sometimes the need is greatest because a local authority has not used the funds it has received as efficiently as it could.

‘We have learnt that if you hand out money while ignoring why local roads are in a bad state, you create a system of perverse incentives, and unintended consequences.

‘So to emphasise that the Incentive Fund is about collaboration - not competition - we have deliberately put enough money aside so that, in principle every highways authority could receive the maximum level of funding.’

The nature of the incentive fund works on a sliding scale, with councils losing more and more cash as the years go on if they fail to improve in the self-assessment, which must be signed off by a Section 151 officer.

The sliding scale employed:

”Local

There are five sections to the questionnaire: asset management, resilience, customer, benchmarking and efficiency and operational delivery. 

Asset management is the backbone of the document’s criteria with the following three questions the corner stones of the asset management assessment:

- (Q1) Asset Management Policy and Strategy

- (Q2) Communications

- (Q5) Lifecycle Planning

The document reveals that good scores on these three questions are essential for authorities aiming for the higher bands. If an authority scores a level 1 in any or all of questions 1, 2 or 5, they will automatically be placed in band1 overall, 'regardless of their other scores'.

The document states the asset management questions are based on the recommendations of the UKRLG / HMEP Highway Infrastructure Asset Management Guidance, published in 2013. However it warns that 'in general, the implementation of these recommendations is the starting point for the implementation of asset management'.

Evidence will need to be supplied for councils committing themselves to bands 2 and 3 on any given question. For instance question one asks ‘Does your local authority have an asset management policy and strategy for its highway infrastructure?’

To reach Band 3 on this question an authority must have a document that has been published or reviewed in the past 24 months and shows outcomes from investment in the asset are clearly identified in the strategy.

The council must also demonstrate the strategy ‘has been used to develop the level of service for setting and measuring performance’, and the outcomes can be demonstrated, with all staff and stakeholders able to demonstrate knowledge and alignment to the strategy. Regular asset management briefings with the senior decision makers and relevant staff are also necessary.

To back this up the authority must show evidence that the implementation of the strategy has ‘been monitored through appropriate measures and that outcomes have been achieved’.

‘Evidence that the asset management policy is visible and accessible to all staff [and] senior decision makers and all relevant staff have been briefed on the asset management policy and strategy’, is also necessary the document states.

Under major reforms to local highways funding, the Government is making £5.8bn available from 2015/16 to 2020/21 for local highways maintenance capital funding.

Of this, £578m has been top sliced for a Challenge Fund to be spent on special one-off projects and the same amount set aside for the incentive fund.

From 2016/17, data will be collected annually via the Single Data List Item 129000 in relation to highway data.

 
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