LOCAL AUTHORITY highway maintenance contracts are to be merged with Highways Agency area maintenance agreements in a bid to meet government efficiency targets.
The Agency plans to pioneer three contracts in the south east and one in the north west in a move that will initially affect up to 18 local authorities.
'We will be looking at the maintenance contracts that we will have to advertise in the next 12 months, ' said Agency procurement director Steve Rowsell.
'We've an indicative programme for Areas 3, 6, 8 and 10, ' he said.
Area 3 covers parts of southern England, Areas 6 and 8 cover eastern England and Area 10 covers the north west.
'We have had some discussions with Hampshire (Area 3) and they are very keen to work together, ' said Rowsell.
The strategy has been drawn up by the Highways Efficiency Liaison Group, a body formed by the Highways Agency and including representatives of contractors, consultants and local authorities.
It follows the Gershon review of public sector efficiency last year (NCE 15 July 2004). This said that local authorities must seek across the board effi ciency savings of 2.5% a year over the next three years.
Uniting Agency and local authority maintenance operations will improve planning and resource use while maximizing bulk buying powers, said Rowsell Maintenance firms supported the move and said it could save as much as 10%.
'We are acutely conscious of the effi iencies that more collaborative procurement can bring, ' said Amey Infrastructure Services managing director Chris Webster.
'We're able to pass on to central and local government clients the benefi of our purchasing power - a good example being the salt we buy for winter maintenance operations.' Highways maintenance experts played down concerns that the move could lead to a confl t of interests between county and trunk road needs.
'It really shouldn't be beyond the wit of us as professionals to plan this work, ' said one consultant.
Rowsell said that merging all contracts could take up to eight years as some local authorities have long-term deals in place.
'We are not talking about terminating contracts, ' he said.
In the meantime he said that authorities and the Agency would focus on working together.
INFOPLUS l Access Achieving Efficiency Gains from Collaborative Roads Procurement - A Highways Industry Strategy via www. nceplus. co. uk.