This spring saw a leading manager announce he was leaving his job at the height of his profession, after topping league tables, being honoured by royalty and weathering the changing landscape of his sector for more than a generation. In fact many people in highways will be as sad to see Matthew Lugg OBE leave the public sector as Manchester United fans were to say ‘ta-ra Fergie’.
Mr Lugg is not retiring but after 34 years of public sector experience he announced he was joining international infrastructure and business services firm Mouchel in July, as director of public services within its infrastructure business.
It should be said the football comparison is not very apt as Mr Lugg is a keen cricket fan. His career as seen him work in Surrey, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire and the strong county cricket game in most of these places is presumably just a lucky coincidence.
Mr Lugg collecting his OBE from Prince Charles
Now he is leaving Leicestershire CC after eight years as environment and transport director, at a highways authority he can ‘only say good things about’. ‘I guess the logical step would be to become a chief executive and I think that would be a very exciting role but I suppose in relation to my skills I just feel that my interests are in delivering infrastructure, highways and public services, so that’s my automatic choice for my next job,’ he explains.
He also suggests he was looking to broaden his horizons after being seconded to the Department for Transport to support the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP).
‘In local government you are constrained by geographic boundaries. Working in a national role whetted my appetite. Plus the fact that I have also been allowed to go to countries like China, Australia, and America because the work I have been doing has attracted interest in all parts of the world. Having been given a flavour of what that is like, I also wanted the opportunity to work internationally.
‘The other issue was Leicestershire. I can’t say anything but good things about them. They allowed me to be seconded for two years, away from my day job three days a week. I am such a lucky man to do that, but inevitably it can’t go on forever.’
The arrangement with Leicestershire saw him become a special adviser to the DfT and Mr Lugg reveals that, although it is coming to end, he has ‘unfinished business’ with the HMEP.
‘I have got maybe another six to 12 months to work on some projects that haven’t seen the light of day yet. Mouchel are supportive of the secondment being continued, not indefinitely but for a period in order to complete the HMEP work. So I am such a lucky man.’
He concedes that Mouchel had a ‘challenging time last year’ but he feels it is now in good shape to build on its excellent reputation. He is also looking forward to the international allure Mouchel provides, which appears to be one his first tasks for the company.
‘I am going out to Australia in August. Mouchel have a joint venture there and they already have three contracts in Perth. The New South Wales state is putting out some of their state road contracts, so Mouchel will no doubt be looking to bid there as well. Australia is a bit behind the UK on highways, so I can go there with all my knowledge and see where I can help and continue to success of the business in those areas and build on it with new work.’
As well as launching Mr Lugg onto the international stage, the HMEP and his services to the DfT resulted in him being honoured by HRH Prince Charles last year.
‘Being awarded the OBE has to be the proudest moment of my career, nothing tops that. It was almost overwhelming really. You know work hard all your life, you don’t work to get that kind of accolade but when it does come it is nice to get that level or recognition.
Highways maintenance and winter services are areas Lugg has excelled in
‘It was just a fantastic experience. What was lovely was my dad, in his early 80s now, was able to come to the Palace and he was so proud to be there with my wife and eldest son and it was just such a lovely occasion.’
Mr Lugg tells Surveyor that although his chosen profession made his father proud, town and county planning was his first choice.
‘I actually got into civil engineering at Cardiff through the old clearing system in universities. I suppose it was not my first choice career but it was something I was comfortable with. My dad was a civil engineer on the railways and worked in the old British Rail out of the Worcester office. And he was quiet pleased.
‘I first got a job as part of this industry training as an undergraduate in the Surrey sub-unit of the road construction units – these were where government civil servants set up a network of offices during the motorway building period. I think that was then I first became really interested in highways.
‘At the time I was quite keen to continue my career with those road units but it was at the time of the Thatcher era and. those units were privatised and taken over by consultants so there were not the same job opportunities there were.’
The university clearing system and early setbacks may have cost the young man some anxiety, but it is difficult to imagine Mr Lugg standing still for very long.
‘I got itchy feet and was quiet ambitious. I moved around quite a bit,’ he says, arguing that in local government there are more opportunities if you are prepared to move.
‘This is where I must pay tribute to my wife. For me to do all the things that I have done and also to have a fantastic family life with four beautiful children, and to have someone who has supported me all the time, if you ask me who has had the most influence and most supported my career it’s got to be my wife Susan.’
Mr Lugg has seen plenty of changes over his time in local government but still sees the potential for more down the line.
‘I think the Highways Agency will be floated off as a utilities type company and there will be some way of putting indirect tax, through some form of hypothecation, into that business.
‘Why can’t that work for local roads? Surely we have to move to some mechanism of user pays. At the moment user pays but it doesn’t come back in to the road network in terms of central government. If we could find a way of having fuel or vehicle tax put into the local roads network then we could break the cycle where we can’t get enough funding through central government. It becomes a more direct way of funding infrastructure.
‘At the moment I would say austerity is going to be here for the next five to 10 years at least. So what we have got to look at is new ways of funding infrastructure. The frustrating thing is there is private sector money out there it’s just finding the route to access it and then repay it at an appropriate rate.
‘For some highways authorities without that opportunity for external investment they are never going to get out of the hole they a