Delivering cleaner and fairer transport for Oxfordshire – Duncan Enright

Delivering cleaner and fairer transport for Oxfordshire – Duncan Enright

Councillor Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy, looks at the future of transport in the county

Cllr Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy

Oxford and Oxfordshire weren’t built for motorised transport. Our historic county deserves an excellent travel network that connects us, helps businesses and jobs, gives access to opportunity, while tackling the climate and cost of living crises. That is what we are working to deliver, and we need your help and insight.

Since coming to power in May 2021, we’ve proposed steps to address the climate emergency and create a transport network that works for everyone.

We want residents and visitors to get around easily for work, education, daily living, and to connect families and friends. Our priority is to invest in an inclusive, integrated, and sustainable transport network while moving to zero carbon.

Most of us already contend with congestion and pollution. Cyclists and pedestrians are put at risk by sharing space with vehicles. If we carry on as we are while our population grows, we face gridlock. We must find ways for those who can to choose to travel on foot and bike, and use buses, taxis and trains (and share cars), to help free up our roads while we address the climate emergency and health issues by reducing emissions.

We are also committed to dealing with inequality. Cycling and walking are good ways to live healthily. But parts of the county and city are poorly served by public transport or lack safe connected cycle paths. Alternatives to cars must be affordable and work for everyone. Some people, and not just those with blue badges, need more help getting around, and we must plan for that too.

The County Council can’t do this alone. The city of Oxford, other local authorities and the county need to work together: the county needs access to its beloved city, and the city needs the county not to clog up its roads.

Our approach is to invest and encourage people to change the way they travel with a series of bold measures.

We are putting the interests of people with disabilities and those travelling on foot and bicycle first, providing better bus services, supporting taxis, and working to expand railways. We will amend existing policies, and with public help we are writing a radical Local Transport and Connectivity Plan to support this change.

Our planning strategy will evolve so new housing developments offer alternatives to the car – meaning residents need fewer parking spaces, have more green areas, and many can live on estates where car ownership isn’t necessary.

We must use data to understand where and when people want to travel so we make smarter choices about how to avoid traffic jams and offer smart ticketing on public transport. It will also allow us to provide dashboards on air pollution and local effects of the climate emergency.

We are determined not to build roads which will simply encourage more vehicle movements and reduce the space for living healthy. However, we have inherited some schemes bound up with new housing which need careful and thoughtful design and construction, not least to support new bus routes and cycle lanes. We also need to adapt existing roads to be better, faster routes for buses and bikes.

We want to gradually reduce parking spaces in Oxford and encourage others to do so, for instance through a workplace parking levy (which will be invested to provide quick and easy alternatives for commuters). Large employers like the universities are already working on this basis.

E-scooters, e-bikes and community buses can be used for the last few miles of journeys from out-of-town car parks. Motorcycles also offer an efficient alternative to cars and are part of our planning.

We’ve created a zero emission zone in Oxford, with plans to expand to the whole city centre and beyond, charging polluting vehicles as we move to all-electric transport.

There will be a focus on public transport, including replacing diesel buses with electric ones in Oxford from 2023, and introducing new lanes and bus priority measures to give peak priority in Oxford. There is one of these measures on Oxford High Street already, and another slightly different one on Botley Road. We will support community buses to connect people in our rural towns and villages. To achieve this, we will work in close partnership with the bus companies.

Our roads and urban environment also need to become safer and cleaner for people on foot, bikes, and mobility scooters. We have conducted experiments to cut through-traffic in our residential streets to improve air quality and quality of life and will review what we have learned. Reducing through-traffic in town centre streets can also help businesses operate outdoors and increase the attractiveness of our high streets for shoppers.

‘School Streets’ trials have also worked well in some places. More are planned to encourage children and families to walk or cycle to school.

We want to build dedicated and segregated cycle lanes, connect existing ones into a safer network along longer routes, and plug gaps in our towns and city. We also aim to modify existing and new road layouts to make them safe for cyclists and will look at establishing new links between home and workplaces – particularly for buses and bikes where the science jobs of the future are being created.

Bold changes aren’t easy but doing nothing isn’t an option. The prize is a city and county where we can all get around easily and affordably, in a way that is healthy and clean and does not damage our planet. Please share your ideas as we all travel on this journey to a cleaner, healthier, fairer Oxfordshire.

Cllr Enright is a member of the Fair Deal Alliance. It is made up of Labour & Cooperative, Liberal Democrat and Green councillors, and is the first administration without Conservatives since inception in 1889

The road to gender balance – Sonya Byers, Women in Transport

The road to gender balance – Sonya Byers, Women in Transport

Sonya Byers, CEO of Women in Transport, outlines the gender bias and stereotyping still present in the transport sector which limits women’s progression

Sonya Byers, CEO, Women in Transport

Transport is a wonderful sector to be a part of – full of opportunity, innovation and great people.

Our research into gender perceptions of working in transport found that over 80% of women felt proud to work in the transport industry.

So why do we need a network like Women in Transport that supports women working in the sector?

Perception is an issue – particularly when we look at where we are with gender balance.

In 2016, the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy set an ambition to reach gender parity in the transport workforce with the UK population by 2030.

Women make up 51% of the UK population but account for just 20% of the transport workforce. Transport is about connecting people and places, but this unequal representation means we are missing out on the valuable experiences, views and knowledge of women. Considering these in our decision-making as standard would help us shape our systems and places so that they are designed to serve the different people that use them.

Our 2021 research for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Women in Transport found that women still experience significant barriers to progression and their perception of their experience in work is different to that of men:

  • 75% of women felt it was easier for men to progress than women
  • 82% of women felt unconscious bias is an issue
  • 70% of women had experienced discriminatory behaviour or language

Surely what we want as a sector is for people to feel welcome and included and to be our biggest advocates to attract new talent.

The DfT’s ‘Enhancing equality, diversity and inclusion for transport infrastructure skills’ report also published in 2021 reinforces how bias and stereotyping limit women’s progression.

A recent whitepaper from the Diamond EU project made recommendations for attracting more women into transport including embedding flexible working practices for men and women, more women in senior roles and school engagement. There was a commonly reported theme that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and specific women in transport groups and educational events were cited as examples of support received that positively impact women employees and a more equal gender balance in the industry.

So in 2022, the reason why Women in Transport and other similar organisations still exist is to provide a safe space for our members to thrive. A space where they can find common ground, network with peers, and support and progress their careers in a sector full of opportunity.

We welcomed the new government consultation to help better understand the future skills needed to boost diversity, plug the skills gap and promote careers across the industry. We are also excited to see the launch of the DfT’s Transport Employment and Skills Taskforce (TEST), announced during National Apprentice Week 2022, led by our Patron Rachel Skinner CBE, and we look forward to supporting the taskforce.

As Women in Transport, we continue to support our women members with professional development, networking opportunities and mentoring. We work collaboratively with partners to promote equality, diversity and inclusion through the APPG for Women in Transport and our Diversity and Inclusion Bus Group

Our Lead development programme launched last April and has supported more than 45 women from almost 20 different transport organisations to date. Together, these women are building a legacy, alumnae network to support each other’s careers – they will empower future generations of women leaders in transport just by being seen and we’re incredibly proud to be a small part of their journey.

And as long as we’re needed, we will be here to support them! Our network is open to anyone working in transport – men and women – and we will be at Highways UK in November so do come along and have a chat in person.

 

Women in Transport are an official partner of Highways UK, visit them on their stand C24 on 2-3 November at NEC in Birmingham.

Is health, safety and wellbeing really protecting our worker’s health? – Steve Perkins

Is health, safety and wellbeing really protecting our worker’s health? – Steve Perkins

Steve Perkins, Managing Director at Steve Perkins Associates, unpacks the big picture of workplace health and argues the ‘system’ for protecting worker health is flawed, particularly in the world of construction. 

“What gets measured gets managed”

So said Peter Drucker, the well-known management thinker. And it’s generally true. Unfortunately when it comes to protecting the physical health of our workers from exposures that cause disease and death, we tend to count the corpses rather than focus on controlling the exposures that produce them.

And even then, that counting only goes on at national level in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) annual statistics. Did you know that the construction sector in Great Britain is responsible for 3,500 occupational cancer deaths, plus 5,500 new cases of occupational cancer each year? And at any one time there are some 81,000 construction workers with work-related ill-health[1] . When you think that the Highways sector accounts for about 30% of all construction activity that’s potentially a lot of occupational cancer caused by highways work.

 

So what are we measuring when it comes to health protection?

Or maybe a more pertinent question is how do our current health, safety and wellbeing metrics impact on health protection?

Well, numbers of mental health first aiders or champions is certainly important, but wellbeing-related measures like that won’t have any impact on reducing the physical, chemical or biological workplace exposures that cause the occupational diseases we’re discussing. To put it bluntly, no amount of mindfulness will stop you get silicosis or noise induced hearing loss! (We’ll come to how wellbeing, occupational health and occupational hygiene work in relation to one another in a moment.)

And then there’s LTI, LTA, AFR… (otherwise known as ‘Looking Good Indices’.) All of which focus on accidents, not ill-health. It could be argued that even in terms of preventing accidents these metrics are not a lot of help due to their lagging nature. They don’t reveal anything about what is being done now to reduce workplace risk and so decrease the likelihood of future accidents. But I digress; that’s a different article.

Well surely then, RIDDOR is the answer when it comes to health metrics and we all count RIDDOR reportable diseases. Unfortunately RIDDOR is to health protection what AFR’s are to accident prevention – seriously lagging! The key thing about the most serious occupational diseases is that they are ‘long latency’ i.e. it can take years if not decades for many of them to develop. So, by the time the disease manifests, the damage is done and, because there are no cures for these diseases, it’s too late to stop them progressing.

The BIG picture of workplace health

I mentioned earlier that we’d look at how wellbeing, occupational health and occupational hygiene work in relation to one another. There are 3 broad, but overlapping dimensions to workplace health.

  1. The classic understanding of health at work comes under the banner of Occupational Health. This is the clinical arena that’s all about managing the health of workers as it is today. It covers the work of doctors and nurses on things like fitness for work, medicals and health surveillance.
  2. Wellbeing is the second dimension of health at work. This is primarily about encouraging individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices and has benefits for both employees and employers.
  3. The third dimension of health at work is Occupational Hygiene. This is all about protecting people from workplace health risks. These are the entirely preventable risks the workplace itself creates, which are regulated by the HASAWA 1974. Preventing ill-health is all about controlling exposures; it’s not about clinical treatment or health promotion. It’s about protection. Occupational Hygienists are highly qualified applied scientists who deal with the anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of workplace health risks. Theirs is a cross-cutting discipline encompassing aspects of physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, ergonomics, toxicology and engineering.

 

Is health, safety and wellbeing really protecting our worker’s health?

Let’s return to our original question. Someone once said, “the system you have is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”. If the HSE’s statistics are anything to go by the ‘system’ for protecting worker health is pretty dysfunctional, particularly in our world of construction.

Unfortunately these levels of serious occupational disease and death reported by HSE have been going on for decades and they’re generally not reducing. It seems to me that it’s hard to conclude anything other than the answer to our original questions is a resounding ‘NO’. By any outcome measure, at an industry level, health, safety and wellbeing is not really protecting our worker’s health.

Good practice in highways worker health protection

That’s that not to say there aren’t pockets of good practice, and at the Highways UK show in November I’ll be unpacking some great examples from Connect Plus’s award-winning Healthier Highways initiative on the M25. You may be wondering by now what should we be measuring if we want to really protect our worker’s health? Remember – it’s all about reducing exposures. Come along in November to find out more!

[1] HSE (December 2021). Occupational Cancer statistics in Great Britain 2021. © Crown copyright 2021

 

Steve will be speaking at Highways UK on 2-3 November at the NEC in Birmingham on the Big Thinking Stage. See the full speaker line up here: https://www.terrapinn.com/exhibition/highways-uk/speakers.stm

“Bringing the environment into the picture” – How local authorities can add a new dimension to highways asset management – Andy Peart, Yotta

“Bringing the environment into the picture” – How local authorities can add a new dimension to highways asset management – Andy Peart, Yotta

Andy Peart outlines how local authorities can utilise tech and data to inform their highways asset management decisions and bring in a new environmental dimension.

 

The science of strategic highways asset management is going through seismic change. Historically, the approach focused on gauging the financial impact of different road repair and maintenance decisions. Local authorities had to weigh up whether it made sense to save money at the outset by using a less expensive surface treatment, only to have to spend more down the line on road repairs or additional surface dressings. On the other hand, they had to assess whether using more durable but expensive materials from the word go would ultimately prove an economically-sounder decision.

This model is now rapidly evolving. There are a range of drivers. Residents are much more attuned to the importance of sustainable construction. They care about the highways development and maintenance process being environmentally efficient. They want the carbon footprint generated across the highways lifecycle to be kept to a minimum. But they also want councils to take a broader perspective and think about how decisions made about highways management and maintenance might impact the wider community.

Government is also becoming more cogniscent of environmental factors in the way it allocates funding to local authority highways departments. Questions relating to sustainability have recently been included for the first time in the Local Highways Maintenance Incentive Fund.

 

The impact of technological advances

To meet these kinds of drivers, new predictive analytics technology is now coming on stream, allowing local authorities to base highways management and maintenance decisions on their impact on the wellbeing of residents and the local economy and environment, as well as financial cost and road condition. Thanks to these advances, the authorities can move beyond a pure focus on road conditions to thinking much more about where roads are located, who is using them and what the overall environmental impact of their construction and maintenance will be.

Part of this may be around the ability to analyse where pinch points on the network are causing cars to idle at junctions for long periods of time. Part of it may be around better understanding how infrastructure decisions impact the quality of life in specific neighbourhoods: including projected job creation, support for economic growth, environmental impact, and changes in levels of access to important public resources such as hospitals and schools.

However, a key element of the equation will inevitably be around the treatment used on the surface of the road. Many local authorities are working with larger contractors. The local authority effectively manages the highway while the contractors go out  and lay the tarmac, and, increasingly today as they are doing that, collect information about temperature and CO2 emissions from the scheme. Typically, they will have specifications around different treatments.

These might include assigning a carbon or NOx output to a treatment that can then get added to the overall lifecycle model. It is another example that demonstrates how highways lifecycle planning is becoming ever greener today.

Many councils are still in the early stages of trying to roll put this kind of approach and currently, they are still trying to understand what their baseline is. They need the ability to model these kinds of factors quickly in order to be able to support the decision-making process on new road builds. It may be a nuanced final decision if, for example, one choice may be more expensive financially but also likely to deliver lower carbon output over time compared to the alternatives.

 

Flexibility of choice

The aim of any asset management solution in this space is not to drive the council’s end decision in any specific direction, it is more around giving local authorities the ability to run different scenarios and then put those options in front of their senior decision-makers. This need to be done as part of an approach which effectively says – ultimately it your decision but we are giving you the best available information to make it.’

These are complex judgements, after all. Low carbon treatments for highways assets are often cheap to invest in. They are therefore attractive to local authorities who want to go ahead quickly with an environmentally-friendly approach. However, if the council is going to have to re-apply the treatment every year, it is going to end up costing more and it is going to output more carbon. So authorities really need to look beyond short-term gains. In this case, for example, they need to consider  whether it might be better to stick to the original road surface, which may be higher carbon at the outset but require much less carbon to maintain over a 30-year lifecycle.

To properly assess that decision, local authorities will need to have the right data available to them, together with the relevant skills to assess that data and the ability to spend time on it and deliver it. Most importantly they will need the right asset management software solution delivered by a vendor they can trust and that can also deliver expert consultancy on top. If they get that formula right, to broaden the overall picture that informs their highways asset management decisions, including bringing a new environmental dimension into it.

 

Andy is a marketing leader and business strategist with 30+ years’ experience in the AI and B2B software sector. Working with connected asset management leader, Yotta, Andy heads their marketing function and helps ensure the company’s innovative software drives business benefit for its 200+ public and private sector customers. www.weareyotta.com

Yotta are exhibiting once again at Highways UK this year on 2-3 November at the NEC in Birmingham on stand I4

Questions about the value of investment in roads – David Metz, UCL Centre for Transport Studies

Questions about the value of investment in roads – David Metz, UCL Centre for Transport Studies

David Metz, honorary professor at the UCL Centre for Transport Studies, outlines his suggested actions to inform future investment decisions when looking ahead to Road Investment Strategy (RIS3)

The Department for Transport has begun to plan its third Road Investment Strategy (RIS3), the investment programme for the Strategic Road Network (SRN) for 2025-2030. There are a number of headwinds for road investment, in particular safety concerns from the loss of the hard shoulder of smart motorways, and the Net Zero decarbonisation objective.

There is also a question about the economic benefits of adding capacity to major roads. Recent cases of post-opening evaluation of smart motorway schemes showed gross discrepancies between traffic forecasts and projected economic benefits. The M25 Junctions 23-27 all-lane running scheme yielded reduced travel times one year after opening compared with before, but this time saving was negated by year two on account of unanticipated growth in traffic volumes. The M1 J10-13 dynamic hard shoulder running scheme generated lower speeds five years after opening compared with before, resulting in a negative benefit-cost ratio. These findings are consistent with the maxim that we can’t build our way out of congestion, which we know from experience to be generally true.

Inspection of the reports of the traffic and economic modelling of these and other road investments shows substantial projected economic benefits from travel time savings to business users. There are also time savings to local users, commuters and others, but these are entirely offset by increased vehicle operating costs – as motorists reroute to the motorway to save a few minutes travel time at the expense of increased fuel costs.

I suspect that this local rerouting is under-estimated in the traffic modelling generally. While long distance users of a motorway would be unlikely to change their route on account of local congestion, local users have the flexibility to do so. The wide adoption of ‘digital navigation’ (satnav location + digital maps + routing algorithms) that recommends shortest journey time routes increases the opportunities for local users to take advantage of increased motorway capacity. The screenshot from Google Maps illustrates the scope for rerouting of local traffic in the vicinity of the M25 J-23-27 smart motorway scheme.

David Metz Blog

Our understanding is limited because the evaluation of the outcome of a road scheme is based on monitoring total traffic volumes and speeds, whereas the modelling estimates the benefits to different classes of road user – cars, LGVs, HGVs, business users, non-business commuters and other local users. We could well have outcomes for which total traffic was exactly as forecast but where the composition was quite different from that projected, with more local trips at nil economic benefit displacing the intended longer distance business users, resulting in poor value for money.

Because we do not understand how the composition of traffic changes after a scheme is opened, we are not able to better calibrate our models to improve future traffic forecasts.

More generally, the widespread adoption of digital navigation is changing how the road network is used. The Department for Transport has substantially revised upwards its estimates of traffic on minor roads. This is most likely due to digital navigation making minor routes accessible to those without local knowledge, with the main impact adjacent to congested major roads where a minor road offers an alternative.

The impact of digital navigation has been strangely neglected by road authorities, transport analysts, practitioners, policy makers and researchers. The providers of digital navigation are secretive about the algorithms they use and their performance. The overall effect is to increase the capacity of the road network, but at the cost of more traffic on minor roads that are well suited to active travel. The lack of liaison between providers of navigation services and road authorities means that we are missing opportunities to improve outcomes for road users while reducing environmental harms, in particular when the network is under greatest stress on account of peak traffic volumes or major incidents.

So, in preparation for RIS3, I suggest actions to be initiated to inform future investment decisions:

  1. Develop a more granular methodology for evaluation of road scheme outcomes, to understand the use made of additional capacity by local users.
  2. Develop a better understanding of the impact of digital navigation on traffic patterns, to improve both modelling and network operations.

The roads sector needs to shift its focus from enlarging civil engineering structures to the digital management of traffic flows. Aviation exemplifies how to make best use of assets, both airlines and air traffic control optimising operations, with only exceptional additions to runway and terminal capacity

David Metz is an honorary professor at the UCL Centre for Transport Studies and will be speaking at Highways UK 2022 at the NEC in Birmingham on 2-3 November. 

www.drivingchange.org.uk

 

 

Hydrogen power is coming – let’s keep the Midlands at the heart of UK freight and logistics – Richard Bradley, Midlands Connect

Hydrogen power is coming – let’s keep the Midlands at the heart of UK freight and logistics – Richard Bradley, Midlands Connect

Richard Bradley, Head of Strategy at Midlands Connect, outlines how the Midlands is ready to take the lead on the UK’s clean energy revolution when it comes to hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

 

Richard Bradley, Head of Strategy, Midlands Connect

Energy prices are sky high right now and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw pump prices had reached an eye-watering £1.76 a litre. Fortunately, I’ve already moved to a plug-in electric vehicle and with EV prices improving all the time, it’s clear that change is truly on the horizon.

We know that the age of petrol and diesel powered transport is coming to an end and coupled with the current energy crisis, switching our fuel sources feels very timely. Government has committed to fully carbon neutral transport by 2050 and green technology is already moving fast in the car industry, with public transport operators also finding new ways of making their vehicles zero emission. But what are the viable alternative fuels for long-distance HGVs? With heavy goods vehicles accounting for around 21% of the Midlands’ road-based emissions overall, solutions are needed.

Electric vehicles dominate the green vehicle market today but we urgently need to diversify our power sources for moving freight, in order to maintain a strong and resilient transport network into the future. Midlands Connect is planning infrastructure which ensures hydrogen power can find its home in our region and help provide a route-map to clean energy alternatives across the country.

One option is hydrogen fuelled vehicles generating their own electricity through a chemical reaction inside the vehicle’s internal fuel cell. At Midlands Connect, we think hydrogen presents a promising offer for several reasons; it feels similar to petrol refuelling, can be easily stored at key locations, has minimal safety issues and fast refuelling without drawing electricity straight from the grid.

You may recall the popular book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, which many of the Midlands Connect team love to read to their children at bedtime, where we’re reminded that:

‘We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!’

Just like in this famous book, you can’t go over us, under us or through us, so it’s hardly surprising that the Midlands has become the UK’s premier location for warehousing, freight and logistics and is therefore a fantastic candidate for trialling hydrogen HGVs and refuelling.

40% of the Midlands’ economic activity comes from the manufacturing and distribution industries and we are home to around a third of the UK’s warehouse space. Combining this with a long history in the automotive industry, the region has also become a hotbed for academic research in transport.

Now of course we’re a little bit biased, but we’re not the only people who recognise why the Midlands is an ideal location for developing alternative fuels. The Department for Transport agrees and Baroness Vere has asked us to become the lead sub-national transport body for alternative fuels.

We link the north and south, connecting key routes and UK gateways at air, sea and free ports and our planned improvements will increase their resilience. Our development of a network of hydrogen refuelling, recharging and modal interchange hubs at central locations between the region’s two airports will connect key centres for the production of sand and gravel, food and many other heavy goods vital to the UK’s economy.

The Midlands is already leading on hydrogen technology in the UK, with great research centres such as MIRA and Tyseley Energy Park, as well as JCB, who are developing hydrogen internal combustion engines and have recently signed a large deal to build hydrogen construction vehicles right here in the Midlands.

Hydrogen fuel technology for heavy goods vehicles is still relatively new and Government is now seeking suitable locations to test hydrogen trucks through their zero-emission road freight trial funding competition, as outlined in 2021’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

The Midlands was a successful bidder with the ‘H2GVMids’ entry, developed in collaboration with Midlands Engine and led by EDF and the Energy Research Accelerator. The H2GVMids partnership includes businesses from the green hydrogen and hydrogen truck supply chain, as well as numerous hauliers, all highly motivated to kickstart this new technology. If successful, H2GVMids could receive some £30 million funding to run truck trials over the next 5 years and build on the Midlands’ proud history in the automotive, freight and logistics industries.

Today, the world of hydrogen technology is filled with questions, variables and possibilities, from how hydrogen is produced and where it comes from, to switching trucks, buses and trains to this fuel. In the Midlands, we stand united and ready to take the lead on the UK’s clean energy revolution. We can’t wait to harness the power of hydrogen.

To read more about Midlands Connect’s strategy for alternative fuels, visit our website to read our recent report: https://www.midlandsconnect.uk/publications/alternative-fuels-beyond-fossils/

Richard Bradley is Head of Strategy at Midlands Connect. 

Delivering 21st century roads – Marie-Claude Hemming, The Civil Engineering Contractors Association

Delivering 21st century roads – Marie-Claude Hemming, The Civil Engineering Contractors Association

From the cost of materials to the impact of legislation and foreign tensions, Marie-Claude Hemming, director of operations at The Civil Engineering Contractors Association, outlines what the future holds for contractors.

 

Marie-Claude Hemming, Director of Operations, CECA

The Government’s radical proposals for reforming the UK’s procurement process will be published in a Bill which goes before Parliament later this year.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association believes the reforms – if implemented in the spirit in which they are intended – will lead to a reduction in the cost of public procurement and projects which deliver long term social and economic value.

The policy aims will also introduce a simplified approach and clearer route of delivery, allowing the market to arrange itself accordingly.

CECA played an active role in submitting evidence to the Government’s consultation last year, and we note that many of our members’ concerns have been reflected in its response to the Green Paper which was published just before Christmas.

As we look towards the publication of the Bill, CECA will continue to ask members for their views to ensure our engagement with MPs and Peers is totally reflective of our membership.

We are currently seeking particular clarification on the operation of the proposed Dynamic Markets system and on open and closed frameworks and call for industry views to aid our lobbying as the Bill progresses in Parliament.

We will also work with Government to ensure measures introduced to address payment challenges are easy to manage.

We anticipate that the legislation will also embed the principles of the Construction Playbook and the independent review of frameworks, published by Professor David Mosey and the Cabinet Office onto the statute books.

The publication of the Construction Playbook is the result of substantial collaboration across both the public and private sectors to share learning and best practice. It is focused on getting projects and programmes right from the start and is based on a series of key principles and policies to change how government assesses, procures and manages public works projects and programmes.

This means changing public sector attitudes to risk, driving sustainability, and innovation across projects and programmes, learning from existing examples of excellent delivery and bringing the right people together at the very start.

To complement this client step change, industry and its supply chain must also demonstrate and deliver continuous improvement in safety, cost, speed and quality of delivery, data sharing, and training.

Professor David Mosey’s Constructing the Gold Standard: An Independent Review of Public Sector Construction Frameworks sets out 24 ‘Gold Standard’ recommendations, reflecting a range of reflect a range of policies in the Playbook with detailed supporting actions, designed to improve the outcomes delivered by framework strategies, and to avoid the pitfalls of bureaucratic and inconsistent practices.

Clients are already at various stages of the implementing the principles of the Playbook, which was published just over a year ago. The general consensus is that the Playbook is beneficial to the whole of industry, in terms of improving delivery, effective use of resources and improving social value.

CECA members have welcomed the adoption of Playbook principles by some of our key clients. We note however, continued challenges experienced in obtaining meaningful data from client pipelines, combined with unbalanced investment cycles. This makes it increasingly hard to plan and manage resource across all company projects, with a lack of consistency in standardised pipeline information adding to the confusion.

The Construction Playbook has a three-year implementation plan, after which, CECA hopes that all clients, including local authorities and the private sector will be fully adopting the Playbook model, driving efficiencies, innovation and growth for the long term.

2022 will be a busy year for civil engineering contractors with global tensions exacerbating ongoing issues over the cost of materials and shortages of labour.

Notably, CECA is especially concerned over the UK Government’s removal of the tax rebate on the red fuel used by construction businesses in their plant and machinery in April.

We have consistently supported the aims of the policy, which are to reduce emissions and help meet net zero goals but have always stated that delivering greener growth must work for businesses and the consumer.

The legislation also removes the rebate for cleaner fuels. With greener plant and machinery not yet available at scale in the UK or in Europe, firms will simply switch to standard white fuel.

Before the outbreak of the war between Russia and the Ukraine, we estimated that the removal of the red fuel rebate would cost industry up to £500 million a year and each SME construction firm between £250,000 and £600,000 per annum.

Given the current crisis, these costs will now be much higher, with firms seeking to get back any loss in revenue from consumers and taxpayers.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association continues to support the policy’s aims, but now is not the right time to implement this change. We are calling on Government to delay the introduction of the rules for twelve months to ensure we can continue to Build Back Better in increasingly challenging times.

 

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association is an official partner of Highways UK, find out more information on their upcoming projects by visiting their website: https://www.ceca.co.uk/

CECA’s Marie-Claude Hemming will be speaking at Highways UK this year on 2-3 November at the NEC in Birmingham. 

ADEPT President Paula Hewitt looks back at the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme

ADEPT President Paula Hewitt looks back at the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme

Paula Hewitt, President, ADEPT

I think it’s fair to say that the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme has at times been a wild ride.

What began as a desktop review into the digital transformation of local roads, became a wide-ranging series of trials that battled through complex procurement challenges, a global pandemic and consequent supply chain difficulties, and the redesign and reassessment of technologies, to become a successful showcase for how to implement innovation across local highways. And many of the tested technologies will make a contribution to reaching net zero!

The £22.9million Department for Transport funded two year programme, initiated and designed by ADEPT, was a collaboration of private and public sector, national and global companies, academia and SMEs all working together across eight different Live Labs. Led by a local authority, each Live Lab set up and implemented a number of trials across data, communications, materials, energy and mobility.

Trials have included:

  • Harvesting kinetic energy from pavements to power digital screens and provide public charging points
  • Using thermal energy to de-ice carparks plus light and heat workshops
  • Using solar surfacing on roads to power buildings
  • Trialling using sensors, VivaCity cameras on waste lorries and drones to assess highways and local roads’ maintenance needs
  • Creating composite recycled lighting columns with sensors
  • Examining last mile mobility
  • Testing the environmental sustainability and quality of using waste plastics in roads
  • Creating data analytics to support air quality management areas and public health
  • Managing congestion using data and video analytics to create personalised travel planning through understanding travel behaviour

The results have far surpassed initial expectations, with key outcomes for the programme also encompassing behavioural change, cross-authority collaboration and a re-examination of public sector approaches to risk and innovation. Central to the programme has also been commercialisation, and the final outputs will include a series of business cases from each Live Lab. These will detail the technical, commercial and supporting data that will enable other local authorities and the wider sector to assess the suitability of an innovation for its own geography and needs.

Many of the lead authorities are taking their work beyond the lifetime of their Live Lab, creating internal cross-sector Innovation and Technology Boards and attracting additional funding and resource opportunities. Others are working with councils outside the programme, for example to discuss how ‘living walls’ can be incorporated into local bus strategies to improve localised air quality. There has even been crossover to other sectors, with two Live Labs exploring how their technology could be used to support adult social care.

Of course, the programme has not been without its own challenges, and if we are successful in moving forward with Live Labs 2, there is much we can build on and incorporate into a new programme.

In the early days, the interpretation of procurement rules differed widely across local authorities, to the extent that some lost the first six months of the two year programme trying to resolve issues. Fast innovation projects cannot bear that sort of delay and we will need to design a new flexible approach that can work through contractual restraints at pace. Although most Live labs were able to adapt to setbacks, for projects that were hugely ambitious and complex in scope, some problems proved difficult to overcome, also resulting in delays.

This type of evaluation and shared learning is all part of the Live Labs ethos. We set out to capture everything – the successes, the challenges, outcomes and failures – and make it all publicly available. We have published white papers, reports, articles and blogs as well as taken part in webinars, conferences and delivered two Live Lab Expos. I would also encourage you to watch the Women in Transport video, where our four female project leads discuss their careers and what it takes to be a female leader in the highways sector with ADEPT CEO, Hannah Bartram. It’s both illuminating and inspiring!

I’d like to thank our lead authorities – Buckinghamshire Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Cumbria County Council, Kent County Council, Reading Borough Council, Staffordshire County Council, Suffolk County Council and Transport for West Midlands – for their tenacity, humour and creativity, exactly the approach you need when a global pandemic gets in the way of the best laid plans!

Suffolk County Council is setting up a platform where the business cases will be freely available, and you will be able to find details for this when its ready, and much more, on the ADEPT website: www.adeptnet.org.uk/livelabs.

Notes:

More information on the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme can be found here: https://www.adeptnet.org.uk/livelabs

The Women in Transport video is available to view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezk3cBwCSVk

About the ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs programme

The ADEPT SMART Places Programme is a five-year project examining and developing innovation to enable the adoption of innovative and digital technology across the local highway network. The initial research report ‘Digital Innovation: The route to the highways systems of the future’ was published in October 2017. In January 2019, ADEPT secured £22.9 million funding from the Department for Transport for Phase 3 of the programme, which sees the development of eight individual Live Labs projects led by local authorities across England with university and private sector partners. The Live Labs are piloting innovation across SMART communications, transport, highways maintenance, energy, materials and mobility. The ADEPT SMART Places programme has been developed with partners: SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, 02, Ringway and WSP.

About ADEPT

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) represents local authority county, unitary and metropolitan Place Directors. Operating at the strategic tier of local government, members are responsible for delivering public services that primarily relate to the physical environment and the economy, but which have a significant impact on all aspects of the nation’s well-being. ADEPT represents members’ interests by proactively engaging central Government on emerging policy and issues, promoting initiatives aimed at influencing Government policy and through the development of best practices and responding to European and UK Government initiatives and consultations. Out wider membership includes Local Enterprise Partnerships, Combined Authorities, Sub-national Transport Bodies and Corporate Partners.

 

ADEPT is an official partner of Highways UK, for more on ADEPT visit: www.adeptnet.org.uk

Paula Hewitt, this year’s President of ADEPT, will be speaking at Highways UK 2022 in the Local Authority Hub at the NEC in Birmingham on 2-3 November. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Achieving zero harm on roads across Europe – challenges for the next five to ten years

Achieving zero harm on roads across Europe – challenges for the next five to ten years

Delivering Vision Zero will be challenging and resource intensive. The timeframe for delivery also requires focus on what matters most in reducing the number and severity of casualties says Jeremy Phillips, leader of CEDR’s Working Group on Road Safety

The ambition to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries (KSI) on our road networks, often to zero and within relatively short timeframes, is shared amongst several countries and individual road administrations across Europe.

In England, National Highways’ own ambition, for example, is to achieve Vision Zero (in which no one dies or is seriously injured as a consequence of working or travelling on its network) by 2040.

Safe travel is, in general terms, achieved when safe people travel in safe vehicles on safe roads. While national road administrations have direct control over just one of those factors – safe roads – they can exert a wider influence over factors that are linked to collision and casualty reduction. Supporting road users in achieving safe and compliant behaviours, and motivating vehicle manufacturers to design for greater safety are examples of the wider influence exerted by road administrations.

Safe roads remain, however, the area in which the greatest influence may be exerted. It is in this context that CEDR’s Working Group on Road Safety has considered the main challenges that will be faced by roads directors over the next five to ten years. They have outlined the challenges in a position paper which will be discussed at the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR), which is taking place as part of this year’s Highways UK.

The challenges outlined include ensuring a strong link between road safety ambitions and the sustainability agenda. And acknowledging and exploiting areas of common purpose, such as managed speeds for injury reduction, collision avoidance and pollution control. 

The paper also acknowledges the importance of delivering safety across the entire road network. There are clear benefits derived from enhancing the safety of routes that carry the highest flows of traffic. But a vision for zero KSI requires that all roads need to deliver the same level of performance, and consequently require proportionate levels of investment. The pathway to achieving this will be one of prioritisation. This presents a further challenge to roads administrators to share data and intelligence, to help ensure that we collectively achieve the greatest good for the greatest number in the shortest possible time.

Similarly, the paper recognises that a zero KSI ambition requires that enhanced safety is provided for all categories of road user. This is a challenge that becomes more demanding as the types of roads for which an administration is responsible becomes wider. Physical infrastructure to segregate modes, especially those most vulnerable to injury, and to protect those working on the highway will be an important contributor. But it will also be a challenge where road space is limited. 

New technologies, including digitisation, are likely to make a significant contribution to casualty reduction. Roads authorities have a role to play in supporting technological advancement, especially in providing the data that will enable more digitised vehicles to operate efficiently. There will also be challenges in managing the transition period between now, and a future in which connected and autonomous vehicles are dominant.

Delivering Vision Zero will not be easy and it will require considerable resource to achieve. The relatively short time period over which this needs to be done also means that road administrations will need to focus on the measures that matter most, and which are most likely to ensure fewer casualties. The Working Group for Road Safety’s paper will help to provide that focus, whilst accepting that decisions about priorities will be greatly influenced by the challenges faced by each road administration in their own jurisdiction.

Jeremy Phillips is the Leader of the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR) Working Group on Road Safety. He is also Head of Road User Safety at National Highways. His presentation: The Main Road Safety Challenges for European Roads Directors for the next five to ten years – towards Vision Zero, will be held in the National Highways theatre at 9.45 – 10.00 on Thursday 4 November at Highways UK.

Embedding a decarbonisation culture into the highways sector

Embedding a decarbonisation culture into the highways sector

We need to see a cultural change towards approaches to carbon, says John Dixon, Jacobs’ Vice President and Highways Market Director, and we should take inspiration from the transformationl improvements in safety achieved within the sector over the last 20 years

Over the last 20 years we can take pride in the transformational improvements made in health, safety and wellbeing in the highways sector. Key to this has been the significant investments in cultural safety programmes. This has driven a mindset change throughout the value chain, with so many more people now choosing to do the right thing and lead the way on safety, regardless of their level of experience or seniority. These were ‘no regrets’ investments that in many cases have yielded delivery and bottom-line business benefits, as well as improved safety performance.

Just like safety, carbon reduction now demands the full and absolute focus of the industry over the next thirty years, but critically over the rest of this decade. There is so much we can do together to reduce carbon emissions in highway infrastructure solutions, and we have the talent to do it.

If we look at how safety has now become embedded into organisations’ business strategies and operations, we can take inspiration to do the same with carbon. Many of you will be familiar with having a ‘safety moment’ at the start of each meeting. This is one relatively small feature of a typical safety programme that places health, safety and wellbeing management at its heart. Perhaps the next time you’re holding a meeting you could think about also having a ‘carbon moment,’ and help place carbon reduction at the centre of your organisation?

In addition to safety moments other features of the safety culture change architecture include leadership commitment training, all staff orientation training, staff-led action groups, observation records/’don’t walk bys’ and stand downs, amongst others. Drawing on this existing architecture we can make a running start to embed carbon management in our organisations, crucial to driving environmental, social and economic growth within our sector.

There are some challenges to this, with few organisations implementing transformational change in the same way. This has been the case with safety management. Imagine how much faster it might have been if everyone adopted the same approach, whether that be highway authorities/clients or suppliers, especially when the goal of zero accidents or harm has been so universally sought by the sector.

Adoption of a common standard to frame our investment and transformation therefore makes perfect sense for carbon, as net zero is the goal we are all striving for. PAS 2080 ‘Carbon Management in Infrastructure’ is increasingly being adopted and promoted in the highways sector. It provides a systematic way for managing whole life carbon in infrastructure delivery that the industry could use to accelerate improvement. This is a flexible standard that can be applied to different project types, sizes and stages. If we use it as a means to facilitate consistency and collaboration at pace we stand a better chance of making a difference on time!

The sooner we see a cultural change towards approaches to carbon, the sooner we can meet our net zero targets, and ensure better business performance, reduced costs, increased competitiveness and innovation. We need to build on what we’ve achieved so far, and make sure our highways are fit for a truly sustainable world.

John Dixon is speaking at Highways UK in the Main Theatre panel Getting serious: climate action towards net zero which takes place at 10.40 on 3 November. Other panelists include Rachel Skinner, Ben Harris, Jamie Bardot and Elliot Shaw.

Supporting mental health with ‘One Million Lives’

Supporting mental health with ‘One Million Lives’

Fiona O’Donnell, Jacob’s Head of Health, Safety and Environemnt (HSE) outlines her organisation’s efforts to break down the barriers that hinder honest conversations about mental health and encourage an open culture of support around the globe

Fiona O’Donnell, Jacobs

How would you feel if you had a tool that allowed you to check your mental health regularly to spot early warning signs, avoid prolonged suffering and treatment and increase your mental resilience? That’s what our One Million Lives campaign is all about, and I’m proud to be its champion…

At Jacobs we’ve been supporting the mental health of our colleagues for a long time by hosting a mental health resilience programme, dealing with topics such as navigating the challenges of lockdown, how to build resilience and coping with grief.

However, insights from the programme, combined with feedback received from mental health champions, employee surveys and conversations with mental health experts all highlighted the need for more proactive and preventative solutions. And that’s where we decided to develop ‘One Million Lives.’

Launched in December 2020 One Million Lives is a complimentary campaign accessible to everyone, no matter where you live, or who you work for. It’s as relevant to people working in the Highways sector as to any other area of activity. Many people don’t have access to corporate resources or Employee Assistance Programs, so we wanted to develop a tool that detects early signs of mental distress and offers proactive strategies, such as sleep, exercise, and social media behaviours.

Our goal? To break down the barriers that hinder honest conversations about mental health and encourage an open culture of support around the globe.

To complement the app we developed a website with additional resources to help you to engage with the One Million Lives campaign and help you with your mental health growth. By inviting people to routinely check-in to see how they are doing and encourage their own networks to do the same, we hope more people will become aware of their state of mental health.

While still in its infancy, the data collected to date (14,000 check-ins) has already helped us at Jacobs to gain insights into the mental wellbeing of our employees, and allowed us to make informed, data-driven decisions in response.

We, and many other organisations believe that this campaign has the potential to transform our collective approach to mental health. But ultimately One Million Lives is more than just about an app or a website. It’s about encouraging everyone to have open and honest conversations.

To learn more about One Million Lives make sure you look out for Fiona’s session at Highways UK running on the Big Thinking Stage at 2pm on 4 November. Highways UK is free to attend, book your place now

Making a difference for our customers

Making a difference for our customers

National Highway’s puts customers at the core of everything it does. And it’s vital, says Customer Experience Director Pete Martin, that everyone in our business and supply chain understands how they can make a difference for our customers and are empowered to do so

pete martin
Pete Martin is National Highways’ Customer Experience Director

Think about the last time you bought a branded product; perhaps an electrical appliance like a TV. It’s highly likely you did some research before pressing the ‘buy’ button. You probably looked at various price points, delivery times and warrantee options. Before making a final commitment, you may also have looked at customer reviews; not just about the product but also about the service of the company selling. Ultimately, your final selection was probably down to trust in the company you selected to deliver your product on time and in great condition.

But what happens when there’s less choice for your customers? And fewer tangible touchpoints like a point of sale or a friendly note when they receive their shiny new product. How do you gain, and retain, the trust of your customer base and make them feel like you care?

That’s the challenge we face at National Highways every day. We know that many of our customers don’t have a choice about whether to travel on our roads. But they can choose to listen to us, to follow our advice or use our information, and they can choose to trust us. Their expectations and experiences matter hugely to us, which is why customer service is one of our top priorities.

Our first customer service strategy, launched in 2016, has played an essential role in putting customers at the core of how we work. But our customers are diverse, and their needs are changing. So, we need to keep driving change and improving on those things our customers are telling us mean the most to them.

Since late last year we’ve been undertaking a review of our strategy to ensure it reflects the evolving expectations of both the people who use our roads and those who live and work near them. In May 2021, we released our new strategy: Making a difference for our customers. The new strategy is evolutionary. It’s built on greater insight and analysis into what really matters to our customers, as well as our performance goals for the second Road Period. It also recognises our customers’ changing needs in relation to travel patterns, the environment and technology.

The new strategy focuses on building capability by empowering our people and developing better relationships with our customers. This will help us improve how we deliver the basics, operate a well maintained and safe network, and provide better information for our customers.

For example, we’re making improvements to our roadside signs and signals so that they display information that is helpful and relevant to our customers. At the same time, we’ve enhanced how our operators set these signs through virtual reality training. This immersive training brings to life the broader impact of incidents on our customers, encouraging operators to ask, ‘If I were the customer, what information would I like to have in this situation?’

We also want to make sure that contacting us is easy and stress-free for all our customers. We’ve introduced the video relay service, SignLive to our contact centre so that our Deaf customers have equal access to this service. And if someone breaks down on our roads and is unable to use a SOS phone due to an impairment, they can now text us on 07380 283 600 for roadside assistance

Ultimately, we want to enable our customers to have better end-to-end experiences and feel confident that they’ll have a safe and reliable journey.

To help deliver our customer service strategy, it’s vital that everyone in our business and supply chain understands how they can make a difference for our customers and be empowered to do so. We all need to understand which areas of customer experience we can contribute to, and where we can do more.

Pete Martin is National Highways’ Customer Experience Director. To find out more about working together to make a difference for customers, come to Pete’s talk at Highways UK, which is running in the National Highways Theatre on 3 November, 14.15-14.35

Equity, diversity and inclusion in the highways industry – what does it mean to you?

Equity, diversity and inclusion in the highways industry – what does it mean to you?

What does equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) mean to you? asks Rachel Billington Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM. Is it a more diverse workforce? Is it flexible working? Getting students interested in STEM? A bid requirement? Or is it something that’s for the human resources department to deal with?

rachel billington
Rachel Billington is Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM.

From my perspective, it’s not one of the above, it’s all of the above and so much more. Yes, it means recruiting a more diverse workforce, it means rounder educational opportunities and it means there are some legal obligations around it too as part of the Equality Act 2010. And any of us involved in bids know ED&I is nowadays routinely mandated in procurement.

But the responsibility for a workforce where everyone has fair opportunity, which is diverse and where people feel included, is also down to every single one of us. In an organisation where ED&I truly works, the principles are integrated both at a corporate and personal level.

Many people think ED&I is about celebrating difference and events, and this is really important, but there is more to it if you want to really bring about cultural change. This means at a corporate level ensuring a robust and effective strategy, with supporting governance, to encourage ED&I. This not only locks-in good practice, it sets a precedent about the values of that company, which can cascade down from management to staff. But how well does industry do this?

When we’re thinking about ourselves and our impact on ED&I, it involves taking a step back and thinking about what we do and how our own biases can impact others. Whether that’s an off-the-cuff comment or a decision about staffing.

On a personal level, the issue can sometimes include behaviours we’re not aware of. At AECOM I recently held a webinar on microaggressions and the negative impact on the way they make people feel in the workplace. Have you ever been in a situation where the only woman in a meeting is automatically asked to take notes or a person from a different ethnicity being asked where they’re really from? Some of these microaggressions don’t come from malice, but how can we deal with these situations better? How can we raise awareness?

I believe a good place to start is to become comfortable in having difficult discussions. One way we have done this at AECOM is by launching our employee resource groups, or ERGs. By sharing experiences, ideas and opinions, we can better understand why ED&I is important to the industry, but also understand what challenges the industry and our people face when dealing with the issues which arise from this.

It’s not a new issue, so we need to take stock and ask ourselves whether we’ve made tangible progress and what has worked well. And how well are we engaging leaders and holding them to account for delivering meaningful change in industry?

Rachel Billington is Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM. She is convening a panel at Highways UK on 3 November to explore these issues further and will be joined by Ron Calderwood-Duncan – Head of EDI & Engagement at National Highways, Jyoti Sehdev – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Costain, and Rory Poole, Roads Sector Leader, UK & Ireland at AECOM.

Road User Charging – Status Today, Preparing for Tomorrow

Road User Charging – Status Today, Preparing for Tomorrow

Road use charging is back on the agenda. While the economic and environmental arguments stack up, public acceptability will be a significant challenge. Getting this right is important and the infrastructure sector, says Stantec’s Dougie McDonald, must actively engage with Government to influence policy development

Dougie McDonald, Stantec

Over the past 50 years there has been extensive research and assessment of the benefits and challenges of different approaches to directly charging for road use in the UK. Until relatively recently, the London Congestion Charge and M6toll provided the only two examples of implementation of large-scale schemes, other than estuarial crossings.

Now road user charging (RUC) is back on the agenda, this time due to the emergence of a roads policy ‘trilemma’ for the Government to solve. This consists of the need to decarbonise our roads network to meet climate change commitments, a potential £40billion blackhole in Government finances from the associated mass adoption of electric vehicles and fuel tax loss, and the ongoing necessity of supporting economic growth through free-flowing road-network connectivity—particularly as we seek to close the lost economic performance from the pandemic.

Current policy proposals can comfortably address particular aspects of the trilemma; however, it is likely that all three issues will need to be addressed over time. As a result, there is renewed interest in RUC in the UK and its role on our future road systems.

Applying RUC anywhere comes with significant known challenges. We have to consider the best technology, which parts of the network it will be applied to, and different approaches between cars and heavy goods. We must assess the impact on different social groups, particularly low-income, marginalised groups, and those with few options other than a car and travel at certain times of the day. RUC schemes collect a large amount of data on the travel habits of millions of people—meaning privacy is a challenge. And finally timing and transition are key as the Government has set ambitious targets for a net zero UK.

Taken together, these challenges all lead towards the issue of acceptability whereby the public feel confident and willing to use toll systems.

Trials in the United States have shown the importance of equity and privacy arrangements, and that rural, low income groups and certain ethnicities may be more difficult to convince of the merits of RUC. Lessons from schemes in Europe and Asia/Pacific show the importance of demonstrating how funds raised can support public transport improvements or environmental gains. These schemes show that the technology is ready for RUC implementation and that “back office” account management arrangements are important.

In the UK, an upgrade programme has begun to improve the tolling system on the M6toll, introducing new digital systems and enabling broader interactions with the user base who complete 18 million journeys annually, or around 50,000 every day.

Public acceptability of a new RUC system will be a significant challenge, so the infrastructure sector must actively engage with Government to influence policy development.

 

Dougie McDonald is Stantec’s UK Regional Director for Transport. He is speaking with Andy Cliffe, CEO of Midlands Expressway, in a session at Highways UK at 9.30am on 4 November which will further explore current trends in road user charging and lessons learned. Highways UK takes place at the NEC, Birmingham on 3/4 November. It is free to attend, register now!

The hidden pandemic –  workplace health risks in highways

The hidden pandemic – workplace health risks in highways

Covid-19 has thrown the issue of workplace health into the spotlight. But in the highways sector, which has a heady cocktail of exposure hazards from manual handling to bitumen fumes, the control of workplace health risks has long been the Cinderella to accident prevention. Steve Perkins explains why we must focus much more on the health risks and points to pioneering work with Connect Plus and Highways England

It’s BIG!

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that annually 13,000 workers die from work-related (non-COVID) disease across all sectors in Great Britain. The total figure for accident fatalities is around 110-150 each year. So 99% health and 1% safety.

Of that total, construction alone accounts for 3,500 occupational cancer deaths, plus 5,500 new cases of occupational cancer each year. At any one time there are some 81,000 construction workers with work-related ill-health.

Highways accounts for a significant proportion of construction and has the usual cocktail of exposure hazards such as dust, noise, vibration, diesel exhaust, solvent and welding fumes, manual handling and solar radiation. And added to that of course, large amounts of bitumen fume.

Why ‘Pandemic’?

According the Centre for Disease Control in the USA, an epidemic refers to an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of an infectious disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area. And a pandemic refers an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.

A key difference with work-related diseases is that generally they’re non-communicable i.e. you develop them through exposure to hazardous substances/processes and they’re not transmissible person-to-person. Strictly speaking epidemic and pandemic relate to infectious diseases. But, indulge me for a moment and assume we can apply them to non-communicable diseases as well.

Another difference is that work-related diseases generally have no cure. There’s no vaccine for silicosis or noise induced hearing loss.

The global picture for work-related fatalities is a little different to the UK with an estimated 2.3M disease deaths each year and 0.3M accident deaths (87% health and 13% safety). Although if we looked only at industrialised countries it would be similar proportions to the UK.

By any measure of scale this is a pandemic.

Why ‘Hidden’?

Firstly, unlike COVD, work-related diseases develop slowly, usually over a number of years and sometimes over a number of decades. This means that workers suffering these conditions retire early and die at home or in hospital or care homes. They are no longer ‘on the books’ of the employer who exposed them. That’s rather less visible than a workplace accident fatality isn’t it?

In fact HSE estimates that of the £16.2Bn cost of all work related injury and ill health, 66% is due to ill-health (and that only covers new cases of disease each year, not the burden due to past-exposure). Of that £16.2Bn employers pick up about 20%, government pays about 22% and individuals and families account for the remaining 56%. Not quite ‘risk-creator pays’ is it?

Secondly, workplace health hazards often go unrecognised and/or unobserved. Most people would probably recognise the risk of a fall from height quite easily, but do they appreciate the serious risks to lung health of dusts, fumes, fibres and vapours? We’ve found that in construction there is certainly an awareness and understanding gap to bridge when it comes to health hazards.

steve perkins highways related occupational health risks

Steve Perkins MA CDir FIoD FInstP AFOH is managing director of Steve Perkins Associates Limited

Highways UK Conference Panel

For this year’s Highways UK at the NEC on 3/4 November, we’ve assembled a high level panel of industry leaders and thinkers to discuss the issues raised by the ‘Hidden Pandemic’ in the context of highways and how we might begin to tackle the risks. Steve will be chairing the panel and highlighting some of the innovative work on health protection undertaken on the M25 in partnership with Connect Plus and Highways England. He will be joined by:

Andy Dean, Chief Executive, Connect Plus M25

Nicola Bell, Regional Director South East, Highways England

Dylan Roberts, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Director, Skanska

Alison Margary, President, BOHS – The Chartered society for Worker Health Protection

Time to consider a new system of taxing motorists?

Time to consider a new system of taxing motorists?

Subsidising low emission vehicles is creating an increasingly large hole in HM Treasury’s coffers. And with the expected rapid transition to electric vehicles we’ll be talking serious money within a few years. RAC Foundation Director Steve Gooding asks whether now is the time to consider a new system of taxing motorists, but from a rather different perspective to that traditionally associated with road pricing.

If you were to ask the Chancellor whether he is a spender or a saver – that question so favoured by the money sections of weekend newspapers – he would, whatever his natural inclination, have to admit that on the evidence of the past twelve months and this week’s Budget, he is much more the former than the latter. The record shows that Rishi Sunak has, faced with the covid crisis, been in ‘spend-spend-spend’ mode in an attempt to prevent the total collapse of the UK economy.

But there is another generous policy being pursued by Mr Sunak which whilst not yet on the scale of the viral bailout is set to cause him an additional financial headache in the not too distant future. And that is the subsidising of ‘green’ vehicles.

Analysis by the RAC Foundation shows that when a pure electric car is purchased instead of a petrol car then HM Treasury loses, on average, around £897 of revenue in the first 12 months after registration. If the purchase of an electric vehicle was in place of a diesel car then the amount would be £1,139.

The missing money comprises forgone fuel duty (currently 57.95p for every litre of petrol and diesel sold), VAT on both the duty and the underlying product price of the fuel, and the initial Vehicle Excise Duty payment – or showroom tax as it is colloquially called – which is emissions-based and is generally higher in the first year.

With the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders forecasting pure plug-in electric vehicle sales in the region of 175,000 in the coming twelve months the switch to green vehicles this year is set to cost the Exchequer another £175 million. 

And don’t forget the purchase subsidy the government currently makes available for most new electric vehicles via the plug-in car and van grants, and the money it provides to help individuals and businesses install electric charge points.

Despite all that you could argue that the resulting figures are still relatively small fry compared to the £27 billion that would (if we weren’t all ‘locked-down’) be collected annually via fuel duty from the more than 30 million internal combustion engined cars that are on the UK’s roads. Even though sales have been picking up for electric vehicles compared with petrol and diesel models they still make up only a small fraction of the total vehicle parc.

So for the next year or two the Chancellor might be down only a few hundred million pounds of fuel duty income. But the Chancellor’s headache of how to fund the government’s spending commitments will get markedly worse as a consequence of last year’s decision to announce a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, just under a decade from now. £27 billion of income evaporating before their eyes is surely enough to make even the calmest of Chancellors sit up and take notice. As the saying goes, a billion here and a billion there and suddenly you’re talking real money.

Yet if the Chancellor is to retain his income from drivers – which is a choice, but one that, not being much of a gambler, I would confidently bet on, then long term he needs to consider a whether a new system of taxation might do the trick.

Step forward the proponents of road pricing. Now there’s a term to conjur with.

It pays to be very, very clear what exactly we mean when we say ‘road pricing’. At its simplest we might be referring to a tolled road. Or, next up, a scheme to charge motorists a set amount for each road-mile travelled over a variety of roads. But for economists, the object of desire is the far more sophisticated, and complicated, version that adjusts the amount payable in relation to when and where the mileage is done, reflecting, it says here, the external social marginal cost that trip imposes (i.e. by causing congestion and polluting the environment).

The Foundation previously nailed its colours to the mast of creating a distance charge, supporting, as we did, Gary Raccuja’s winning entry in the 2017 Wolfson Economics Prize. The proposition, developed in answer to the question of whether there might be a better way to pay for roads, advocated a system where per-mile fees would be applied, with the option of their being collected via drivers’ insurance premiums, allied to the earmarking of a set proportion of income to be reserved for spending on roads. But that is probably not the question foremost in the current Chancellor’s mind. Spending on roads is just one of a mighty long list of things pleading for his largesse.

Of course, the Chancellor does have the option of deciding that the growing hole in his finances is actually a price worth paying when set against the vast benefits of saving the planet with the help of green vehicles. He could set a long-term policy that taxes low-emission vehicles significantly less than more polluting legacy vehicles we’ve been used to driving, to give the growth of the electric car market a major boost.

But if, as seems likely, the question the Chancellor is asking is how best to ensure motorists continue to cough up money to pay for roads, and schools, and hospitals, then we would counsel making simplicity the watchword . The scale of the task involved in introducing a new tax payable by tens of millions of people on a variable basis set so as to raise billions of income, replacing a system in fuel duty that has the lowest cost of collection of any tax, ever, should not be underestimated. Not impossible. After all, scientists have just put a vehicle onto the surface of Mars. But, like Mars, the risk register for such an initiative would, we think, be a vibrant, glowing bright red.

If driving is to continue to come at a fiscal cost to the motorist then we’d advise the Chancellor to focus on those vehicles that would otherwise be getting a free pass – a subset of the parc not the whole fleet. Not easy when for environmental reasons the imperative is to encourage their take-up. The risk of sending mixed messages is high. But so is the risk of encouraging electric vehicle take-up on a false prospectus.

If a road user charge is on the horizon for zero emission vehicles then working through the detail of how and by whom that charge would be set and collected should surely start right now.

Steve Gooding is Director of the RAC Foundation and a confirmed speaker at Highways UK running at the NEC, Birmingham on 3/4 November 2021

Why National Pothole Day matters in the age of Covid-19

Why National Pothole Day matters in the age of Covid-19

This year’s National Pothole Day secured coverage across national print and broadcast media, putting a much-needed spotlight on the worsening pothole funding crisis. Paul Fleetham, Managing Director of Tarmac Contracting argues that even in the throes of Covid-19, National Pothole Day still matters.

As we all dig deep in lockdown 3.0, you may feel there are more things to worry about at the moment than potholes. I agree that a surging pandemic and too many people suffering does not compare.

But even in the throes of Covid-19, National Pothole Day still matters because the state of our local roads has national and local social and economic importance.

Well maintained local roads underpin our communities and economies, they represent 98 per cent of the network and are used in almost every journey. They help support improved social outcomes – allowing for faster and more reliable journeys, boosting local businesses and serving all road users. A good quality local road is also central to encouraging people to take greener forms of transport such as cycling and buses. Getting our roads up to a high standard is part of building back better.

As we make the case for more investment in local roads, here’s a few additional thoughts from me to consider at the start of 2021.

Investment in local roads is being made but long term certainty to plan is key

The Spending Review committed £1.125 billion of local roads maintenance funding in 2021-22, including £500 million for the Potholes Fund to fix potholes and resurface roads. This is welcome but it’s critical that these pledges are met with longer-term commitments and sustained periods of ring-fenced investment, as most of all local councils need certainty to plan and implement essential maintenance programmes. Only a complete asset management approach to our highways will deliver the improvements that are needed and ensure that the local road network is no longer treated as a second-class asset.

Devolution will give metro mayors powers and they must support local roads

For metro mayors it’s a case of when, and not if, infrastructure powers will be given to them. The National Infrastructure Strategy unveiled late last year is supportive of greater infrastructure powers for mayors, but their hands are tied until Government sets out expanded devolution arrangements in the English Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper. When this happens there will be a good opportunity for metro mayors to invest in high quality local roads which support other infrastructure and development plans across city regions.

Investing in the local road asset delivers an economic return too

Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the undoubted challenges to communities and the economy, I’m a great believer that UK infrastructure delivery and particularly highways projects can support economic recovery. Investing in local roads provides an immediate economic stimulus to local economies – this is shovel ready work that is not waiting for planning red tape.

We need to always think about our roads in terms of social outcomes

Intelligent local authority clients assemble condition data but also look at this information in the context of assessing the social impact of failing roads across their network. We’ve previously worked with councils where they’ve made the case for more investment in the asset based on a matrix of social impacts. Ultimately they showed how a well-maintained network was essential to underpinning their wider goal of delivering better social outcomes for its citizens. Councils are facing an incredibly uncertain time but there’s scope to do more assessment like this to help build the investment case.

National Pothole Day in 2021 was very different to previous years and there are other issues that are greatly affecting our way of life. But the economic and social value of this asset that we all depend on should not be forgotten.

In support of National Pothole Day Tarmac has launched a new online guide to pothole repair. It includes details of award-winning asphalts such as Ultipatch Sitemix, winner of Highways Industry Product of the Year in 2018. It also includes repair materials designed specifically to cure and harden more quickly in wet conditions, making them ideal for the British weather.

Read Tarmac’s guide to pothole repairs

Paul Fleetham is managing director of Tarmac Contracting. Tarmac is newly confirmed as a Platinum sponsor at this year’s Highways UK taking place at the NEC Birmingham on 3-4 November.
Looking back and moving forward… ORR’s role as the Highways Monitor

Looking back and moving forward… ORR’s role as the Highways Monitor

Feras Alshaker, Deputy Director Roads, Office of Road and Rail, ponders how 2020 has impacted on its role as Highways Monitor and points to key performance criteria in RIS 2, including a particular focus on proposed efficiency gains

I took up my current role with ORR in January and there’s no doubt that 2020 has been an extraordinary and challenging in ways that I did not foresee. The coronavirus outbreak has impacted everyday life, how we work, and of course how our road network is used.

In April, the start of the second road funding period was overshadowed by the pandemic but as we transitioned from the first five-year road period to the second, it has, in some regards made identifying the impacts on monitoring Highways England’s delivery clearer and in turn how we hold them to account.

For example, our framework for holding Highways England to account is flexible, and we use this flexibility to take into account the extraordinary situation the company faces and focus activity in the most proportionate and efficient way possible.

Looking back

Highways England was set up in 2015 as a result of the UK government’s programme for roads reform, and the ORR took on its scrutiny role – as Highways Monitor. The reform brought an unprecedented level of investment planning and government’s promise of secure funding.

In July this year we published our assessment of Highways England’s performance and delivery of its investment plan. This looked back at how Highways England performed in Road Period 1, and what the whole roads reform process has achieved so far. 

We concluded that over the last five years Highways England made good progress and we have seen it meeting almost all of the targets it was set. It marked the end of the first road period and I am pleased that we have pushed Highways England hard to deliver on safety, efficiency and meeting the needs of road users. 

We, as Highways Monitor, played a vital role to improve the transparency and quality of Highways England’s financial reporting – with the company delivering £1.4bn efficiency savings over five years. We also pursued a backlog of structures inspections, as well as relentlessly monitoring Highways England’s work to improve road users’ experience following aspects of poor performance.

Our assessment also found that the company must continue to improve safety for all road users, further involve its customers in planning and decision making, and work even more efficiently over the second road period.

Moving forward

In August, the company published its strategic business plan and delivery plan for the second road period. In these documents, Highways England sets out how it is planning to deliver what government specified in RIS2 – the second road investment strategy covering 2020-25.

We have been involved at different stages in the RIS-setting process, primarily though our ‘Efficiency Review’ of an earlier version of Highways England’s plans, which we published earlier this year. 

The scope of our efficiency review was to assess the level of challenge and deliverability in the company’s draft plans, with a particular focus on proposed efficiency gains. Those plans had good supporting evidence in many areas and represented a real improvement on the plans produced for the first road period. 

It is encouraging that much has remained from earlier versions, including a strong focus on safely operating, maintaining and renewing the existing network. It is also good to see that the recommendations from our review, particularly the scope for Highways England to deliver £600m of additional cost reductions and efficiency savings, have been carried through into Highways England’s final strategic business plan and delivery plan for road period 2.

However, Highways England’s challenge is getting bigger, as it needs to deliver a larger programme of works as set out in the Government’s 2020 Road Investment Strategy, and we will continue to provide close scrutiny. At an appropriate point Highways England, the Department for Transport and ORR will need to jointly take stock of the package for both the remainder of the road period and beyond in light of the pandemic.

Creating a legacy of continuous improvement

Creating a legacy of continuous improvement

Author: Jon Cole, Head of Pavement Efficiency and Productivity, Highways England

Jon Cole

Our pavement efficiency journey started with a workshop in September 2015 in recognition that the way we delivered pavement needed to contribute significantly to the RIS1 capital efficiency KPI (target £1.2BN). Representatives from our Operations Directorate and our supply chain were present, and this set the context and agenda for how the Pavement Efficiency Group or PEG, as it affectionately became known, would work to challenge both Highways England and the supply chain to recognise efficiency opportunities through the delivery of pavement works.

Our story is one of technical excellence and true collaboration with the supply chain to enable pavement efficiencies across the different delivery programmes of Highways England; and, to align their goals to the safety, customer and delivery imperatives of Highway England.

As a delivery team we’ve tried to think of this as a change programme, we always knew that the technical side was only part of what we had to deliver; engaging with delivery teams, and especially designers, to buy in to what we were proposing was the challenge. We’ve occasionally found it difficult to get passed traditional ways of thinking and this has shaped our engagement, making it simple, visual and impactful so our messages were clear and connected to the overall objective of achieving the challenge of KPI7.

We’ve created technical content in an engaging way through digital integration that forms the basis of our engagement approach and we have embraced different media to share our message and ideas across the entire pavement delivery community. We’ve used lean tools to help our outward facing engagement and planning and adopted simple, visual and engaging content that is easy to understand and implement. Our single source of content is hosted in Prezi and can be accessed by anyone; it is live and periodically reviewed and updated.

Our pavement efficiency levers have been tailored to align with the definition of an efficiency in the Efficiency and Inflation Monitoring Manual which governs our work and we have developed 37 levers that can be used either in isolation or in combination depending on the project or delivery function. Working jointly with SES from an early stage was key to the long-term success of PEG, to ensure that they were supportive of what we were promoting. As a result, we structured the project with our lead technical expertise partnered with SES gaining their strategic alignment.

To promote the levers, the team has embedded itself in the various efficiency meetings around the country, and across all delivery programmes, gaining a unique insight into the different challenges of individual projects and programmes; actively sharing knowledge across them. This had led to cross programme learning and the adoption of several efficiency levers in different programmes.

The pavement efficiency technical partner has engaged directly with over 50 delivery teams across Major Projects and Operations programmes. Part of our engagement is to discover best practice and we’ve taken the best practice from Operations and shared it with Major Projects and vice versa whilst adding these ideas to our toolkit.

To date £352m pavement efficiencies have been level 2 assured with a further c£70m awaiting assurance. These efficiencies are evidenced through project level efficiency registers and validated by the Central Efficiency Group. In exceeding the challenging target of £350m in this RIS period, positions our team well to continue sharing best practices in pavement delivery to also continue meeting the efficiency targets of future Road Investment periods, having created a legacy of continuous improvement.

Jon Cole, Head of Pavement Efficiency and Productivity, Highways England

Jon along with James Burdall, Associate Director of AECOM, will explore some of the technical innovations achieved through PEG within the Civils and Materials Dome at 16.30 on 6 November. Additionally Jon will address the process of achieving a step change, at the Burges Salmon stage at 13.30 on 7 November

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Putting customers first

Putting customers first

Author: Richard Bowen, Highways Stakeholder and Public Liaison Manager, Mott MacDonald

Richard Bowen

As Highways England builds on strong foundations as a construction-led organisation, focusing on the needs and satisfaction of its customers, their supply chain partners are also being asked to make customers a priority in all the design and build work they undertake. It’s clear that a customer revolution is underway at Highways England. 

Its Customer imperative has come to the fore and improving customer satisfaction is a priority. Broadly defining customers as road users and communities located close to the Strategic Road Network, Highways England has committed to firm customer principles. Their ambition is to improve customer satisfaction across a range of areas, including improving journey time reliability, displaying better road signage and addressing customer frustrations caused by roadworks.

Each year Highways England reviews their customers’ priorities to ensure they are addressing common frustrations. The expectation is that supply chain partners will align themselves by developing and implementing design and build solutions to actively target the sources of customer complaints. 

It’s a tough ask of a supply chain that is deeply rooted in an engineering culture guided by practical design standards and building regulations. Highways England is asking searching questions of supply chain applicants, such as how they will adapt their cultures so that customer requirements are part of everything they do. It’s turned things upside down and forced their supply chain to look both outwards and inwards at activities that haven’t changed or been questioned in a generation.

As suppliers to Highways England, Mott MacDonald has had to consider how we have worked previously and how we can transform our culture successfully to provide highways solutions and services that are not just buildable and provide value for money, but also contribute directly towards improved customer satisfaction. It is also about helping to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by embedding them into our activities, such as supporting economic growth and improved competitiveness across all regions (goal 8) and delivering resilient infrastructure and innovative solutions to maximise value from public investment (goal 9).

We started by considering how we engage effectively with Highways England customers to gain a breadth of insight that is representative of road users and communities. Always more difficult to engage effectively with road users, a notoriously itinerant and time-constrained customer group, targeted communications channels and messages are needed to be successful! Rarely a one size fits all methodology, each campaign requires creative thinking to be employed.

A recent Mott MacDonald campaign made use of Highways England’s Twitter feed and eye-catching graphics to capture the attention of drivers in Kent. When we analysed the feedback, we were pleased to see that 80% of the responses were received online, largely from customers that identified themselves primarily as road users. We were provided with insights that are very different from the viewpoints often heard at local community events. 

While it’s incredibly helpful to gain customer insights that represent a broader range of interests, we need to ensure that those viewpoints are validated by more influential stakeholder groups. By discussing insights with the likes of local authorities, local politicians and community groups, we can establish understanding and develop effective relationships through which a highways scheme can be more easily progressed.

This is the point at which we need to look at the other side of the coin. To ensure validated customer insights can be incorporated into scheme designs and builds, as a supply chain we need to focus inwards. Nobody’s suggesting there’s a reason to rip up the existing rulebooks, but we can design and build better roads by embedding validated customer insights into design and construction. Positive design interventions involving safety are long established within our industry and we need to think the same way about customers during planning and delivery stages. 

How we manage roadworks is a good example. Consistently cited by customers as a main source of frustration, we can improve customers’ experiences of roadworks through joined-up thinking and innovation. If insights tell us that a traffic management solution will be unpopular with customers, we aim to work together to provide a more acceptable alternative. Where options are limited, we can work smarter to explain the need for roadworks to customers, to provide clear information, and to highlight the benefits that will be realised for road users and communities once the works are completed.

Customers are the lifeblood of the highways sector. Yet too often they have remained hidden in plain sight. By adopting opportunities, including technology advances that provide us with abilities to develop customer centric solutions, we have a catalyst to develop and mature an industry-wide customer culture that impacts positively on customer satisfaction. Highways England is leading the way, their supply chain must follow. 

Richard Bowen is the Highways Stakeholder and Public Liaison Manager at Mott MacDonald      

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