How can we ensure we capture and embrace international best practice in Highway Maintenance?
There is clear evidence from the work undertaken by Infrastructure UK that the cost of delivering and managing UK infrastructure is up to 30-40% higher than elsewhere in Europe.
Why is this and how can we do more to understand what the rest of Europe is doing differently?
My concern is that we are becoming increasingly insular in our thinking particularly when some Local Highway Authorities (LHAs) don't even allow their staff to attend conferences and seminars in this country let alone contemplate trips abroad. This is incredibly short sighted at a time when we most need to innovate and drive down costs.
My own career has been built on recognising and applying best practice either from the UK or elsewhere. I have been fortunate in being supported to go on visits abroad to study and experience alternative approaches to delivering highway maintenance services.
One example of this was over 20 years ago when I was a Maintenance Engineer working for Lincolnshire CC which at the time was looking to invest in new salt spreaders. I was given the opportunity to visit Denmark and meet with Danish Highway Engineers to see how they delivered their winter maintenance service. As a direct consequence of this trip I persuaded the political administration to convert the whole of winter maintenance fleet from the traditional spreading of dry salt to the pre-wet system This was predicated on the evidence I was able to produce on a more efficient and effective operation following my trip to Europe. This, at the time, was the first English Highway Authority to introduce pre-wet salt treatment!
Another similar example was the benefit of Lincolnshire CC allowing me to go on a CIHT study tour to see French innovations in surface dressing. I again used this opportunity to capture European best practice at a time when LHAs were still using conventional single surface using K170 binders. I introduced, for the first time in the county, the use of Poly- Modified binders and also trialled the use of double surface dressing.
These are just a couple examples from my experience, I could quote many more.
One way of addressing the gap in capturing international best practice is through organisations such as the World Roads Association (WRA) (www.piarc.org). The good news is that the profile of this organisation is at last being raised through its links with CIHT.
The WRA, also known as PIARC, has been around for over 100 years and over 100 countries are members. "Have any of you heard of it?"
The UK representation has traditionally come from the Strategic Road Authorities HA and Transport for Scotland with limited input from the local roads sector. In order improve and widen the representation the WRA National Committee has recently agreed for ADEPT to be a Committee member. As President of ADEPT I really welcome this and will be working hard to ensure international best practice identified through the WRA is available to the whole sector.
There is also a number of European Union funded transport projects through an initiative called EURONET which includes projects relating to highway maintenance. The HA is providing the UK input but again how much LHA input and knowledge is there of this initiative?
There is, however, some progress on better engagement with the wider LHA sector on this through UKRLG.
Another international organisation which relates to our sector but again is very remote from practicing highway engineers is the International Federation of Municipal Engineers (IFME) (www.ifmeworld). Again this is a well established organisation which has been in existence for over 50 years and has a large membership of countries across the world. The UK representation comes from ICE with support from the Municipal Expert Panel but have any of you ever seen any coverage of its work in the NCE or elsewhere in the technical press?
IFME is holding its bi-annual World Conference in Helsinki this summer and I have been invited to present in my ADEPT capacity but where has there been any coverage of this event? Papers are being presented from over 35 different countries, again, a wealth of international best practice.
So in conclusion it is really important that we provide young engineers with the opportunity to experience best practice not just in the UK but elsewhere in the world. To do so we must defend our decisions as part of workforce and succession planning that we can clearly justify these trips as investment in the future and not just jollies . If we don't then we run the risk of not closing the gap between our competitiveness and the rest of Europe's.