Carol Valentine, highways manager at Kent County Council, is the first deputy chair of the National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG). She talks to Dominic Browne about her new role and raising the profile of this vital body.
You were made the first deputy chair of the NWSRG this year. Can you tell us more about why the post was created?
The main thinking behind the role was that we all have full-time jobs aside from our work in the NWSRG and so we wanted to make sure the leadership structure was strengthened to ensure we could give more time and had the resources and contingency plans to support the group.
What projects will you be personally taking on as part of the new role? I will be working as closely as I can with our chair, Chris Cranston, but personally, as an initial project, I will be taking on the task of developing our marketing and communications strategy. I am working with the Steering Group and with the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the NWSRG, which is made up of winter industry suppliers, to update the website and put a communications strategy in place.
What are you doing to update the communications strategy?
We have our exclusive comment articles in Highways magazine, of course. The other thing we want to do is to update the website. It needs a bit of work but it is an important tool. When we produce new sections of the winter guidance document [the replacement for Appendix H under the new code of practice] they will go straight up on the website. We want to have a site that people can rely on. There will be a members-only section as well to provide the opportunity for extra engagement.
We are working with contacts to get some input on what the new website will look like and feel like.
What can people find on your website and why should they visit?
At the very least it tells people what we do. Currently there is reference to Appendix H as it stands. Going forward there will be new sections of the guidance up there and we will work with TAG to get a wider range of technical information out there. We are also considering doing profile pieces of our members and TAG members to help boost exposure for the group and the people who make it what it is. We will also look at doing profile articles with contractors, not as an advertising platform, but to provide information on key issues such as calibration.
Can you give us an update on the winter service guidance?
We are working hard at the moment on the revised guide. I cannot say exactly when the guidance will be completed. However, we are working on the format to the sections we have so far and in the New Year will release some sections in the new format. Our main focus at the moment is to get sections out there and we are working with the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE) to make sure they are written in an easily accessible style and format.
What are the main concerns your members have at the moment?
The main concern is, predictably, budgets and how we can continue to deliver a good service with the money we have.
How would you respond to people who say they don’t have the money to implement the NWSRG’s research and recommendations?
I think our recommendations can save money. I know of authorities that have used our work to help them review and reformat their winter service strategy to make sure it is what people want. They carried out consultation with partners and the public. The guidance makes people go back and look at what they are doing and in the long-term can make savings. The other thing the guidance can do is help make a business case to elected council members for more investment. I know of one authority that has done that. It gives people the tools to make a case for extra funding and perhaps make savings in the long-term.
You seem to be working more closely with other groups now. Is that something your new leadership is taking forward?
I think with any change in leadership you get a fresh perspective and perhaps some new energy. Chris and I are of one mind. We want to take things forward. Obviously, we are just two people, but we have so many great people sitting round the table at our meetings with so much knowledge and experience. We have co-opted the IHE into the NWSRG and after we looked over the constitution we had elections for new TAG members to work alongside the Steering Group. We don’t have memoranda of understanding but we will be working closely together in the future.
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This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Highways magazine.