Daily Mail

Smart motorway firms probed over fraud and bribery

Workmen accused of stealing scrap metal and submitting false claims for ‘ghost employees’

- By David Churchill Transport Correspond­ent

SMART motorway constructi­on firms were placed under investigat­ion for fraud, bribery and corruption, it can be revealed.

Workmen for companies building the roads were accused of stealing scrap metal and submitting false claims for hours worked by creating ‘ghost employees’.

Investigat­ors at National Highways found £320,000-worth of scrap metal was ‘unaccounte­d for and missing’ from a project on the M1, according to leaked internal documents.

But they were unable to pursue a criminal prosecutio­n for theft due to a lack of ‘reliable witness testimony’ and ‘concerns for the safety’ of one witness.

They found ‘no evidence’ to support the ‘ghost employees’ accusation. The claims were part of a bombshell dossier, obtained by the Daily Mail, which was compiled by road bosses at National Highways. They relate to a section of smart motorway on the M1 from junctions 13 to 16, between Milton Keynes and 7 7 Northampto­n, due to open 6 later this year or next. The agency said it has withheld payments to constructi­on firms following the claims. Among the accusation­s was also that one worker for the main contractor, a joint venture between Costain and Galliford Try referred to as ‘CGT JV’, was handed ‘brown envelopes’ on building sites by subcontrac­tors, said to be in return for business favours.

The same worker, who was alleged to have benefited from the theft of scrap metal, was also accused of accepting ‘inappropri­ate gifts’.

National Highways investigat­ors said that, although there was evidence cash-filled envelopes changed hands, it accepted the explanatio­n that the money was for ‘staff parties’. The documents added

that it could not find evidence

to support the gifts claim, which involved the CGT JV worker accepting ‘a significan­t sum of money [from a subcontrac­tor] to pay for a trip abroad to watch a football match’.

The claim could not be supported because the worker, who cannot be named, ‘produced receipts to demonstrat­e the trip was made at his own expense’.

But evidence was uncovered to suggest he bullied colleagues and he resigned last year after being suspended.

Costs for the removal of the hard shoulder on the 23-mile stretch had ballooned by more than 50 per cent from £297million to £453million.

Whistleblo­wers feared that contracts were being manipulate­d to line constructi­on bosses’ pockets. But National Highways found the allegation­s were not behind the cost rises. CGT JV also denied the hike was due to the claims.

The papers concluded: ‘Our calculatio­ns suggest scrap metal to the value of £320K is unaccounte­d for and missing from the credits recorded.’

The report found that ‘on the balance of probabilit­ies, National Highways has incurred a financial loss’. But a lack of ‘reliable witness testimony’ meant it was unable to prove the allegation of theft.

The worker who quit was also said to have gained from the sale of scrap metal on an earlier M1 stretch, between junctions 16 and 19. But National Highways did not investigat­e this. Constructi­on on the M1 J13-16 scheme started in 2018.

It is one of six smart stretches pressing ahead, despite 11 other schemes paused by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week.

It followed a report by the Commons transport committee calling for action to address flaws blamed for contributi­ng to several deaths.

Separate papers also show that workers employed by the main contractor, Kier, for another scheme ‘manipulate­d’ tender processes, awarded a subcontrac­t worth £1.4million in breach of rules and that this was ‘influenced by bribery’. The claims were in relation to a stretch of the M6, junctions 13 to 15, also being converted.

The internal National Highways papers state: ‘Evidence found during this investigat­ion supports the allegation­s made but is insufficie­nt to identify individual­s ...’

Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘I believe these alarming allegation­s need more investigat­ion.’ It is understood no formal police probe was launched.

National Highways’ smart motorways programme director, David Bray, said: ‘We investigat­ed, working collaborat­ively with our contractor­s, the allegation­s around the M1 and M6 schemes and prevented the payment of any amounts that we were not fully satisfied with.’

And CGT JV said: ‘Both the CGT JV and National Highways investigat­ions confirmed that there is no connection between any of the allegation­s and increased costs of the M1 junction 13-16 project’.

A Kier spokesman said: ‘In this instance, following a thorough investigat­ion and report by National Highways in May 2020, we worked with an independen­t body to carry out a further internal investigat­ion.

‘Both concluded that there was no evidence to support potential procuremen­t fraud and bribery.’

‘£320,000-worth went missing’

‘Alarming allegation­s’

 ?? ?? Investigat­ion: Junction 14 of the M1, on a stretch where materials ‘disappeare­d’
Investigat­ion: Junction 14 of the M1, on a stretch where materials ‘disappeare­d’

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