SHOCK DEPARTURE of the Highways Agency's major projects director Keith Miller this week raised fears about the future of key projects like the M25 widening.
The Agency conrmed that Miller is to be replaced less than two months after procurement director Steve Rowsell announced his intention to quit (NCE 14 December 2006).
The two men pioneered the Agency's innovative Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) procurement model, adapted it to privately nanced projects and were chiey responsible for procuring the Agency's £1bn per year major projects programme.
News of Miller's departure sent shock waves through the contracting sector.
'You have got to ask what the Agency is now going to do about schemes like the M25. We're right in the middle of the protracted tendering process and the two men who were trying to procure it have gone, ' said one major roads contractor.
A shortlist for the £5bn widening of the remaining three lane sections of the M25 motorway was announced last October (NCE 19 October 2006).
'It sounds like an excuse for more reviews and to push it back two years, ' said the contractor.
Miller is understood to have fallen foul of Agency chief executive Archie Robertson's move to strengthen the organisation's commercial management after coming under fire for failing to control costs.
The Agency is braced for the imminent publication of the Department for Transport commissioned Nichols report on its approach to cost estimating (see box). It is expected to attack the Agency's ability to get on top of costs in the first ECI schemes.
'The chief executive has written to staff to announce his intention to strengthen the leadership of the major projects directorate, ' said an Agency spokesman.
'We would clearly anticipate that the Nichols report will have recommendations for the Agency. This move is in recognition of the benefits that could be gained from incorporating wider commercial experience in delivering the Agency's programme of major schemes.
'The details of what this all means are being developed.
Staff and the supply chain will be kept informed (see leader P17)