PIONEER OF Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) Steve Rowsell sensationally quit as Highways Agency procurement director this week, raising fears that the innovative procurement method is set to be dumped.
ECI has been widely championed as a way of bringing down costs and increasing price certainty in road schemes.
But the Agency has faced severe criticism in recent months over cost escalation in its capital programme.
Industry sources said that Rowsell had become locked in an internal row over whether ECI was delivering the benefits claimed.
'There has been talk that Rowsell has come under fire from the beancounters who are asking if ECI is the right way forward - he was getting increasingly frustrated, ' said a highways contractor.
'We hear there is an old guard within the Agency who said ECI would never work and are hankering for a return to lump sum ICE 5th contracts with all the risk on the contractor. But that simply won't work - the industry won't take it.'
The Agency denied that ECI was dead. A spokesman said: 'Major projects director Keith Miller made it perfectly clear at Civils 2006 that ECI was very much the Agency's preferred procurement method.' Other contractors also feared that Rowsell leaving was a backward step. 'It is valid to speculate and beggars the question: what is going to happen with ECI? There is a certain amount of resistance to ECI and this could trigger a complete Uturn.' In July the Transport Select Committee said that the Agency 'has lost budgetary control of the Targeted Programme of Improvements' after figures showed that it was heading for a £1bn overrun.
The Committee insisted that such an increase would be 'an irresponsible and unacceptable waste of public money' and told chief executive Archie Robertson that he must take personal responsibility for ensuring that an increase of this magnitude did not occur.
Industry sources said that such criticism inevitably put ECI in the firing line, but insisted that all it had done is to flnish out issues at an earlier stage and expose failings in the Agency's own initial budgeting.
'The Agency has not been too smart on budgets at an early stage and that is nothing to do with ECI or Rowsell, ' said one contractor.
'I suspect there is a lot of tension in there, but Rowsell leaving is a big loss for the Agency'.
In a statement, Robertson thanked Rowsell for his contribution to the Agency and confirmed that Ginny Clarke, the Agency's chief highway engineer, has temporarily taken over the role of procurement director.
It is understood that Rowsell intends to set up his own consultancy practice.
NCE 500 Will Steve Rowsell's departure from the Highways Agency trigger the death of early contractor involvement?
14 %Yes 34 % No 52 % Don't know
NCE 500 is 500 engineers who agree to be polled with a different question each week. Have your say at www. nceplus. co. uk