HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 c670
10. Mr. Forth

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what further measures his Department is taking to ensure better value for money in its awarding of contracts for road maintenance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

New regulations have been made requiring more works to be put out to competitive tender. We are also extending lane rental contracts to a wider range of works. Better design standards should ensure that roads last longer.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful answer. On behalf of all M1 users, may I ask what he does to balance the concepts of value for money on the one hand and the time taken to effect repairs and maintenance on the other? For example, is there any possibility of doing more repairs at night to try to minimise the disruption caused on the M1—and no doubt by future repairs on other motorways?

Mr. Bottomley

We try to use the value of motorists' time as an incentive to those doing the work to complete it more rapidly. Lane rental has led to a 30 to 40 per cent. speeding up of the road works on the M1. I look forward to the day when we have caught up with the backlog that we inherited from the last Labour Government, and I hope that we never get such a backlog or such a Government again.

Mr. Crowther

What steps does the Minister take to penalise contractors who close lanes for unnecessarily long periods? Does he appreciate the frustration caused to drivers—as well as the losses to companies—when cars, buses and lorries are held up by the thousand for an hour or more by the closure of a lane in which there is no sign of any work taking place?

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman has correctly analysed the whole purpose of the lane rental scheme. However, many of those who use our roads need to realise that with 120,000 vehicles a day passing through some contraflows it takes only one person to make a mistake for people to get killed. I pay tribute to the motorway maintenance people, who do much dangerous work while the rest of us scoot past pretending that they are not there.

Mr. John. M. Taylor

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to get value for money from maintenance is to build motorways properly in the first place; for example by making the Oxford to Birmingham section of the M40 three lanes all the way?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend will want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for ensuring that motorways are now built to last for 40 years without serious work, as opposed to the 20-year period that we inherited from the last Labour Government.