CMA claims landmark victory for Freedom of Information

15 February 2022 | David Young

National Highways ordered to disclose data held by private contractor Kier

CMA claims landmark victory for Freedom of Information

Philip Swift, Managing Director of CMA

Following a long-running dispute, Claims Management & Adjusting (CMA) is hailing a landmark victory for Freedom of Information (FOI) in relation to data held by UK government contractors.

For years, CMA's Managing Director, Philip Swift, has gathered evidence on costs claimed by National Highways (formerly Highways England) contractor Kier Highways Ltd for repairs to motorway barriers and road surfaces. The former police detective noticed that bills presented to drivers, fleet operators, hauliers and their insurers were significantly higher than those presented to Highways England itself for comparable jobs. Were different rates being applied? If so, what were they? Fair enough questions for a claims specialist to ask.

Prior to 2018, National Highways said these rates were commercially sensitive – a position supported by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). After CMA successfully challenged this (see Tribunal Decision EA/2018/0088), National Highways mounted the surprising defence of claiming the rates didn't exist. The Authority then backtracked, admitting they were held. However, it asserted that Kier didn't hold information on behalf of National Highways. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) therefore could not apply, its lawyers argued.

CMA refused to give up and, in August 2021, the ICO ruled that the information was held on behalf of National Highways. The Authority appealed but, after further representations from CMA, threw in the towel. On 9 February 2022, years after the initial request, some of the information was supplied.

Philip Swift, Managing Director of CMA, said: "The lack of transparency is shocking, but we are delighted to have finally received part of the information we requested. It's a landmark breakthrough, not just for strategic road network (SRN) claims, but for the public interest in general. We've punched a hole in the widespread belief that data held by government contractors is beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

"It's outrageous how much time and money National Highways and Kier have spent trying to hide this pricing from the very people it applies to – the public. All we asked for was itemised bills for roadworks, but we've been met with obfuscation and stonewalling at every turn. Even now, the information provided is not in the original format, and our question as to whether data has been destroyed has been ignored. Why are they so determined to keep it secret?

"The upside to this frustrating saga is that CMA has acquired an unrivalled knowledge of Kier's questionable processes. There are often strong grounds for a sizeable reduction and many thousands of claims are potentially involved. I urge any individual, company or organisation presented with a suspiciously high road incident claim – particularly those involving a motorway collision, fire or spillage – to contact us immediately!"

Further information: CMA