Talks are taking place between trade bodies and government departments and agencies over how to improve local engineering knowledge in the wake of the cuts, it has emerged.
Senior highways sector figures at this year's Roadmarking Live event - held by leading industry body the Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA) - warned the entire highways sector must support local authorities as public sector knowledge could not be relied on.
The so-called intelligent client function in local authorities - using in-depth knowledge to better design and commission services - was in retreat due to the spending cuts over the past five years and action must be taken, speakers said.
Chief executive of the RSMA George Lee and chief executive of the Institute of Highways Engineers (IHE), Richard Hayes, both warned that in order to get value for money, improve safety and put in successful bids for competitive government funding pots, the private and public sectors would have to work closer together.
In a forthright speech to road markings suppliers and contractors, Mr Hayes said: ‘I think the industry, my institute, and other trade associations have a massive job to actually increase the knowledge base in the public sector. I am not sure they understand what you have sold.
'We are talking to the Department for Transport, Highways England and Transport Scotland about how we can produce a competent engineer that the public and others can have confidence in, one who can actually make those decisions. There are too many people now who don’t have any idea about road maintenance, we have to get that intelligence back in at the head of service level.
‘Authorities need to retain a measure of intelligent client. There has to be someone there who actually understands the work. There are not many intelligent clients. We have to raise the competency and to do that we have to set standards.'
Mr Lee was more conciliatory on the issue, stating: ‘We are in a situation of flux and change. One the one hand we read about large amounts of investment going into the highways network, on the other we hear about cut backs.
‘I think that has put real onus on industry to start taking some ownership of the difficulties that actually cost us money and cost us investments. By and large the client is actually very intelligent but they are massively under resourced. They are progressively less informed and less aware of what is available in the market place and how to tie together different cost effective solutions.
‘Relying on the clients to understand what we do and the value of the offer is not going to work. Actually getting in and among the clients and sharing the burden of finding out how you build a project [is what we need to do].’