28 October 2008 | Paul Snell
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been highly critical of a Highways Agency project to buy electronic road signs. The group of MPs found the deal took five years, compared with the two initially proposed, and cost five times more than expected. The committee claimed the agency "never had a clear idea about the time and cost needed to complete the project".
There was also criticism that staff did not have enough time to ensure advisers to the process were effective. "Agency staff had no time to check what the advisers were doing to earn their money. And the advisers had no performance incentives applied to their work. They ended up costing £15 million, five times more than expected at the outset," said Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the PAC.
Further, the report highlighted potential suppliers had been invited to bid on the contract too early. The shortlist process took 17 months during which two bidders dropped out and the agency was forced to retender. MPs said the period between advertising and shortlisting should be no more than a few months.
However, MPs did praise the attention to detail in the process and the transfer of risk to the private sector. The National Audit Office previously recommended public sector buyers follow the Highways Agency's thorough examination of bid prices (News, 24 April).