Those highways authorities that embrace change through greater collaboration, shared services and combined authorities will reap the biggest rewards, Peter Molyneux, head of highways at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has warned.
Mr Molyneux was speaking in a panel discussion with Highways England’s North West divisional director Alan Shepherd, Kier Highways managing director Nigel Dyer, and Atkins associate director for transportation Andy Warrington, at Surveyor's Highways Management 2015 conference.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and its transport arm Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) have already embarked on a collaborative and common approach to highway management across their 10 constituent boroughs, Mr Molyneux said.
Peter Molyneux: Highways are a' changing
'We’ve taken this as an opportunity. It’s a chance to do something different. It’s difficult in some ways for local politicians and senior managers due to sovereignty issues, but it sets common objectives and it’s a good solution for the wider GMCA area,' he said.
TfGM has grand ambitions for better transport to be delivered through fiscal devolution. A conversation on key infrastructure for growth has started with Highways England, Mr Molyneux said.
Alan Shepherd gave his assurance that the Highways England is talking to other regional and local stakeholders and communities to build a picture of their hopes and needs, and not just 'running off with all the money', he said.
Private sector suppliers can deliver efficiencies and economies of scale through joined up working and rationalising resources across regions, Nigel Dyer said. But he also gave a word of caution: 'It’s very important that this is done in a way that strikes the right balance between appropriate scale and the right service for local communities,' Mr Dyer said.
'The investment that is now coming into the national industry should be applauded, but some of it should be used to bring back people and skills that the industry has lost, and we ought to be working together more to bring an uplift to road networks.'
Andy Warrington was formerly a highways services manager in Nottinghamshire. 'In Notts and the surrounding region, collaboration is starting to spread from initiatives such as the Midlands Highways Alliance, but few authorities are considering joined up approaches,' he said.
'A good first step may be alignment of asset management policies and strategies with investment planning driven by local growth. This way growth funding could be accessed to support highways maintenance.
'There is a business case for collaborative asset management and an associated opportunity for looking at relationships across the supply chain. More visibility of work programmes would help suppliers, but it needs better "soft" skills from clients. Supplier organisations need an across-the-piece review of how they operate in terms of collaboration.'
Industry needs to 'take a look at itself' and not refer back to the contract so much, Molyneux added. 'We have to rationalise engagement with the supply chain and ensure relationship management is good,' he added.
'Currently some highway authorities will be waiting for a letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government announcing further cuts in funding, which is still too much of a key driver of service reduction, but we still have substantial amounts of money. We need to prove the benefits of shared services and give information to show our stewardship is good value for money.
'Across Greater Manchester we have a duty to look at how we treat streets compared to trunk roads and we have got to convince central Government and the Treasury that we can invest wisely and use retained tax revenues to invest in local roads. The message is that we can make a difference.'