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Green light given for Highways Agency reforms

Plans to reform the Highways Agency, making it a government-owned company, have been given the green light by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin. 

Industry insiders have previously called the plans “the first plank to privatisation”. 

In less than a year, the Highways Agency, which is an executive agency of the Department for Transport, will be tasked with managing and operating England’s motorway and strategic A-road network – as a standalone company. 

The decision comes following an extensive consultation on the government’s proposals, which were originally announced last year by Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury,that the Highways Agency would become a publicly owned corporation. 

The DfT stated that changes to the Highways Agency will save the taxpayer at least £2.6bn over the next 10 years and will make the new company more accountable to Parliament and road users. 

The government is also setting up two new bodies to hold the company to account – one to protect the interests of motorists and other road users, and another to oversee the roads network and watch over costs and performance. These will be created with two expert transport bodies, Passenger Focus and the Office of Rail Regulation, and will provide transparent reports on roads issues. 

The Department will now work to introduce the legislation needed to underpin the changes and plans to bring the new company into operation in by April 2015. 

McLoughlin said: “The reformed Highways Agency will be more transparent and more accountable, driving down costs as it increases efficiency. This means taxpayers get a better deal and road users get a network that is fit for the future economic demands of this country, helping to create more jobs and support business growth.” 

The CBI stated that it is important to see plans for a more independent Highways Agency which, backed by a long-term investment plan, will improve the UK’s roads. 

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contactors Association, said: “In the past, the roads sector has suffered from boom-and-bust conditions that are hugely damaging to the smooth delivery of projects. 

“These reforms will not only make the Highways Agency more efficient, but will also mean greater funding certainty for the construction sector.” 

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