Page 2: Political factors
The Highways Agency works in the interests of the public and not for private financial gain this is the same for all publicly-funded bodies. Its overall remit is set by Parliament with transport policy the responsibility of the Department for Transport. Political factors therefore play a key role in shaping its activities and priorities. Ministers are held to account in Parliament for the performance of the Department and its agencies, including the Highways Agency. The Agency has a duty to spend money wisely and cost-effectively and through Parliament, the Agency is ultimately accountable for its work to the public. Taxpayers' money maintains the road network and taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent.
The government sets the policy framework for the Highways Agency, therefore the Agency can be affected by political changes of direction. For instance, a change of government policy could switch some resources away from roads to rail transport.
The Highways Agency implements and informs government policy:
- One key priority is tackling traffic congestion. This affects the part of the Agency's aim to deliver 'reliable journeys' and is an issue that affects both private road users and the economy as a whole. The Highways Agency is working to increase the capacity of the existing motorway network. It has tested a system called Active Traffic Management (ATM) on the M42 near Birmingham. ATM uses modern technology to allow motorists to drive on the hard shoulder during peak periods. This improves the flow of traffic and increases capacity when the road is at its busiest. The results have been good and drivers can predict with more confidence how long their journeys will take. For example, someone commuting to work every day can be sure they arrive on time. Businesses can improve the productivity of their commercial vehicle fleets. For example, a national distributor needs to be able to promise its customers such as major supermarkets, that products will arrive in time. A vehicle is not being 'productive' when it is sitting in a traffic jam. The fact this system has proved effective has influenced the government to use it on more motorways.
- Improving road safety is another priority. The Department for Transport has national targets to reduce the number of people injured or killed on roads.