A jobs boom will be created both within the newly formed highways government company (go-co) and in the supply chain ahead of the delivery on an increased programme of roads spending, Graham Dalton said yesterday.
Speaking at the launch of the Strategic Business Plan for the newly named Highways England, which will succeed the Highways Agency, chief executive Dalton said that not only would the firm significantly grow, but that it would need to work with the supply chain to ensure it too is prepared for the increase in work.
“We’re not trying to get the same supply chain and do three times their work – we’re working with them,” he said.
Design work will need to be underway within the company’s first financial year on 80% of the newly announced road schemes, as revealed ahead of last week’s Autumn Statement.
But because the organisation will remain a “heavily outsourced business”, according to Dalton, it would continue to work closely with suppliers to tool up for the work, he said.
“We’re turning it into a bigger scale, higher performing organisation, which is very different from a projects business,” said Dalton. “The Highways Agency is a heavily outsourced business and [as it becomes Highways England] that won’t change for the foreseeable future.”
However, the firm will recruit to grow from employing 3,500 to 4,000.
Highways Agency major projects director Peter Adams, who will sit on the management team of Highways England, told NCE that a significant number of the new roles required at the organisation would be in programme and project management – both skills that have bloomed in the civil engineering sector in recent years.
With the scale of the challenge evident, the new company will face a steep learning curve and Dalton said that he was keen to learn best practice from fellow go-co Network Rail but also from utilities firms. However, he said that he expected to have to leapfrog some of their experiences so that Highways England would be in a similar position at the end of its first five-year control period to Network Rail at the end of its third five-year control period.
Further details around the first five year Delivery Plan are expected to be published in March, ahead of the expected formal setting up of Highways England on 1 April 2015. Dalton said the recent parliamentary process for the Infrastructure Bill, which allows for setting up the organisation, had passed the Lords and got to the Commons second reading “a little bit sooner than originally thought”. It is therefore due to be passed in February.
Key Highways Agency suppliers attending the launch of the plan said that skills around technology would play a greater role in delivering work for the new go-co.
Costain managing director infrastructure Darren James said there was a changing role for civil engineers working to deliver the new roads spend. “We are seeing a shift towards more blended mechanical and civil engineering skills,” he said. “More experience will be needed in the technology aspects of what we do. We are seeing a shift [in the way civil engineers work] but we are also seeing a much greater volume of work, so the numbers of civil engineers needed for the work will also go up.”
Skanska Infrastructure Services managing director Gregor Craig said that it was vital that civil engineers increased their knowledge of technology but retain their civils skills. “We need to be careful not to turn civil engineers into technical experts,” he said. “They need to know enough to manage the technology suppliers and experts but not enough that it will turn them into the technology experts.”
Mouchel chief executive Grant Rumbles said there would be more room for civil engineering work to be done under the new regime. “Another nice thing for engineers [about this change] is that you will get to do engineering,” he said. “They currently spend a lot of time bidding. We can now get engineers to focus on what they are, rather than spending 40% of their time bidding for work. It’s a really exciting time.”
Highways England’s performance will be monitored by the re-purposed railways monitor Passenger Focus, which will be renamed Transport Focus to reflect the broadened scope.
Dalton said this scrutiny by road users would “become a real game changer” in how well the organisation builds into a longer-term delivery body.
“Those who work with us from the supply chain will see a difference from day one,” added Dalton. “Those who use the network will see a difference at the end of the first 12 months. And at the end of the first [five-year] control period people will be able to look back and say yes there’s been a difference.
“We will be more visible; more accountable. At present we are the civil servants and ministers normally do the defending.
“This is the engineering and infrastructure community taking ownership; really getting a grip.”