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HA weakened by departures, say contractors

Roads contractors fear that the Highways Agency has plunged itself into a project management crisis following last week's 'hasty' removal of major projects boss Keith Miller. Agency chief executive Archie Robertson has been accused of making a 'hasty political statement' by dismissing Miller before a successor to run his £1bn a year major projects directorate had been lined up.
The Agency now finds itself with four senior appointments to fill: Miller, Steve Rowsell who resigned two months ago, and two divisional directors. Robertson this week told consultants and contractors that he will be taking personal responsibility for major projects until a successor to Miller is found. But he warned that this may take 'some time'.Rowsell's role is already being covered by another Agency director, Ginny Clarke and the divisional director roles are being covered by subordinates. Contractors said that this left the Agency 'light'.'Robertson is not an engineer and so doesn't have much of an interest in construction matters per se. His problem now is that he doesn't have that strong a team around him,' said one. 'He has certainly put a lot of pressure on himself, running the Agency and having day to day dealings with contractors,' said another.In his letter to the industry Robertson said the changes are 'part of the natural progression forward as the Agency moves to a new level of delivery'. An Agency spokesman added that replacing the divisional directors was 'routine'.Robertson added that the changes are best led by someone with extensive commercial experience. Contractors questioned whether he would get the people he needs at the prices advertised. 'The trouble is the packages they are offering are not best in class. For the divisional director role they are offering £70,000. For the responsibility they carry that is not a huge salary. 'The climate in which Robertson is looking to recruit is tough. It looks like there is a little bit of acting in haste. Ahead of the Nichols report he needed to make a statement and he needed a sacrificial lamb. He wanted to be able to say that he has acted already and taken command.' Nichols Group's report into the Agency's approach to cost estimating and project management is expected within days.

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