Streamlined local highway arrangement suggested

March 4 2015  

Streamlined local highway arrangement suggested

England’s 150 plus highway authorities should be significantly reduced in number, according to delegates attending a CIHT Procurement & Delivery Panel event in London last Thursday.

Not one of the 50 strong audience of local highway professionals raised their arm in a show of hands when asked by CIHT Director of Policy & Technical Affairs Andrew Hugill if the country should keep with the current arrangements. And no one thought either that the number of highway authorities should even be as high as 50.

After some discussion it was suggested that between 20 and 30 local highway authorities would be more suitable, although one delegate went as far as to say there should just be one national authority looking after local roads.

Reducing the number of authorities would, it was said, help provide a more consistent level of highway service across county boundaries. But fears were expressed that smaller service providers would lose out from any change in the status quo.

CIHT’s Procurement & Delivery Panel Chair Stephen Child followed up by suggesting that rather than reduce the number of highway authorities, neighbouring councils should be encouraged to work collaboratively together.

This discussion came towards the end of a lively day of presentations and workshop sessions.

They included an overview of highways procurement by Andrew Hugill, who said that local authority budgets do not look promising for the next five years and that pressures on revenue expenditure are likely to increase. Authorities who strive for efficiency savings and good asset management will be better prepared going forward, he added.

Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme advocate Matthew Lugg spoke about a new incentivised funding arrangement for local authorities currently being developed, which allocates money based on which of three performance ‘bands’ authorities find themselves in. “This is not about penalising authorities, it is about rewarding good practice. The aim is to get everyone up to the highest band,” he said.

Delegates later split into groups to discuss what constitutes good procurement practice. Answers included “effective communication between client and contractor” and “not assuming that cheapest is best”.
When asked to list what barriers exist to effective service delivery, one response was: “The unpredictability of budgets; a five year plan for local roads would help to iron out peaks and troughs with workload”.

One senior highways specialist said that more professionals need to “be freed from procurement to so they can get on with the engineering” and went on to say that procurement needs to change to get away from “essay questions and textbook answers, and then focusing on the cheapest price.”

Presentations also came from Mark Darlow-Joy of Gloucestershire County Council, Nick Yarwood of Worcestershire, Dave Rowley of Ringway Infrastructure Services, Tony Turton of the Highway Agency, Rowland Gordon of the London Borough of Croydon and Dave Brown of EM Highway Services.

Andrew Hugill concluded proceedings thanking both Ringway and EM Highway Services for sponsoring the session.

(Photo copyright David Holt and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

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