Local highways authorities have been urged to share skills and join forces to procure products and services as desperate austerity measures bite.
Speaking at a conference of local authority engineers and suppliers yesterday, Leicestershire County Council environment director Matthew Lugg implored colleagues at other authorities to team up in order to mitigate the effects of looming cuts.
He said “sacred cows” such as specialisms in bridge engineering or traffic modelling would have to be sacrificed to make ends meet. “We just can’t afford these any more,” he said. Instead, shared “centres of excellence” could do the job. “These are really tough times. My highways maintenance budget will be cut by 20% over the next four years. I was in Yorkshire last week where some of my colleagues are having their budgets cut by 30%. Why would you collaborate? Ultimately when you see the benefits you cannot afford not to.
Lugg is seconded part-time to the Department for Transport funded Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) which is charged with developing a more efficient way of procuring highways services. His council is one of 18 signed up to the Midlands Highways Alliance which has already saved £12M by teaming up to procure services and materials.
Such alliances are now in place in many regions across England, with Yorkshire and the south west now teed up to join them.
“The Yorkshire Highways Alliance is now agreed in principle and a letter has gone out recently to south west highways directors asking if there is an appetite to join up,” said Lugg. In next six months the HMEP will also produce a standardised contract and specification that will allow further savings to be made.