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Highways Agency weakened by departures say contractors

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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. In addition to Miller, the Agency must also replace procurement boss, Steve Rowsell, who resigned two months ago, plus two divisional directors.

Robertson this week told consultants and contractors that he will take personal responsibility for major projects until a successor to Miller is found.

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 in an 'acting capacity'.

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 a letter to major contractors and consultants, Robertson said the recent changes were 'part of the natural progression forward as the Agency moves to a new level of delivery'. An Agency spokesman added that replacing divisional directors was 'routine'.

Robertson added that it was best that the changes at the Highways Agency are led by someone with extensive commercial experience.

But 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, ' said one.

'Ahead of the Nichols report on the Agency's cost estimating and project management, 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, ' said another major contractor.

Nichols Group's report into the Agency's approach to cost estimating and project management is expected within days.

Robertson's letter also offers reassurance that the Agency remains ' firmly committed' to Early Contractor Involvement and to progressing the £5bn M25 DBFO contract.

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