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Highways England: Driving change

Newly formed government company Highways England is about to start a jobs boom in the roads sector. NCE speaks to chairman Colin Matthews about the type of jobs it will be creating both internally and in its supply chain.

At the launch of the strategic plan for the newly formed government company, Highways England, chief executive Graham Dalton declared that the ambition was to turn it into a “bigger scale and higher performing organisation”.

With a five-year plan and a government commitment to spend roughly three times more money in the major roads network than before, the new organisation is clearly going to have its work cut out.

Add to that the fact that the updated body’s remit will be to focus on delivery, leaving the politics and policy to the Department for Transport (DfT), and it is clear that it will have to implement some cultural changes as well.

At the launch event, it was suggested that the organisation would have to increase its workforce from 3,500 to roughly 4,000.

“In order to multiply by three the amount of investment going into the network on an annual basis from around £1bn a year to £3bn or more, yes we’re going to need more skills in the business,” says Highways England chairman Colin Matthews.

Colin Matthews

Matthews: Highways England is planning to roll out more smart motorways

“Five hundred is a fairly good estimate [of the number of people needed], but that’s nothing compared to jobs that are being created across the industry and the economy as a whole.”

In numerical terms, Matthews says the largest number of new recruits at the go-co will be people who can design and deliver projects, namely in project management and engineering roles. But equally, a new focus on customer engagement at the organisation will create a smaller number of communication-based roles.

“You’re going to see some different sorts of jobs advertised in the coming weeks. Things that Highways England didn’t have to do in the past as part of the DfT,” says Matthews.

“I think we’re going to have to be able to speak more clearly and confidently to the driving public to explain what we’re doing and why it’s worth accepting the works that are going to be happening in order to enjoy the benefits when that work is complete.

Matthews argues that this calls for recruits who understand digital communication rather than bog-standard PR professionals. “Do we communicate with our customers on social media, do we talk to them on the radio, do we go through their GPS systems? People expect communication from other modes of transport, such as rail, and should expect it from the road network as well.”

“Our investment programme is public and a big element within it is bringing smart motorways to more areas”

Colin Matthews, Highways England

When it is put to Matthews that pay scales in the public sector will make it hard for the new organisation to recruit the best people, he responds combatively.

“I don’t think that’s true in every part of business actually and if we’re recruiting externally, people will only join us if what we offer in total is attractive,” he argues. “One of the other things we offer is to be part of huge, nationally significant investment programme.”

Now that the organisation has been cut free from the DfT, Matthews thinks another focus will be to recruit for more strategic roles.

“We also need the capability to design the plans and strategies,” he says “The DfT will have their job to do, which is to develop policy, and we’ll have our job to do, which is to deliver projects. So we will need delivery strategies, including things like how to procure projects.”

Asked what Highways England wants from its supply chain, Matthews sets great store by the fact that the government has committed to a five-year plan, similar to regulated industries like water and aviation. He wants this plan to give companies in the supply chain the confidence to take on new staff.

“We need the supply chain to be confident to invest in the people to make them capable of delivering what is a huge amount of work,” he says.

“Our investment programme is public and a big element within it is bringing smart motorways to more areas, but the other area where we need innovation is to get great value for taxpayer’s money. The successful big projects always have several companies involved who are collaborating effectively with common interests to achieve good outcomes for customers, and that’s what we want here.”


Produced in association with

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