Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

It's good to consult

Consultants are being ushered into town halls as local authorities buckle under the weight of an £8.4bn transport programme. Damian Arnold reports.

MUNICIPAL ENGINEERS are learning to cosy up to the private sector consultants they once suspected of wanting to consign them to the dustbin of history.

Local authorities UK-wide are negotiating with civil engineering consultants to form long term 'top up' contracts lasting as long as five years. Under these, engineering skills will come on tap from consultants as and when the local authority needs them.

The frenzy of partnering talks, including advertisements placed by Suffolk, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire and Hampshire county councils in the last two weeks, stems from the Government's decision just before Christmas to allocate £8.4bn for local transport spending over the next five years (NCE 11 January).

Local authority transport directorates that have been progressively stripped of engineers as a result of spending constraints and skills shortages, now have road maintenance, road building and public transport budgets that double and even triple previous settlements.

Councils cannot raise staff levels back to those seen in the halcyon days of municipal engineering because the civil engineers with specialised local transport skills are hard to come by in the cut throat job market. Graduate numbers are dropping in hundreds every year. Inhouse resources are further stretched because of the need for councils to assess bids for transport work on quality as well as price under the Government's best value regime.

Under such constraints local authority engineers now need to embrace consultants as brothers in arms. They have been welcomed on board at Birmingham City Council and Norfolk County Council where Mott McDonald has been taken on as a long term partner. Talks are understood to be progressing at Portsmouth, Leeds and Nottingham city councils as well.

Dorset County Council's environment director Guy Spencer has experienced the culture change after signing a top up agreement with Buro Happold.

This allows the council to draw on Buro Happold staff and vice versa.

'Historically, when our staff have come into contact with external consultants they have been concerned about the future of their own jobs, ' he says. 'There has not been that reaction for this partnering arrangement. There's now a much less hostile culture.'

Top ten schemes given firm go-aheads

Leeds Inner Ring Road Stage 7. £35.6M

Tyne & Wear Centrelink £26.4M

Crawley Fastway Guided Bus.£23.9M

Derby Integrated Transport Project. £23.4M

West Midlands Outer Circle Bus Showcase. £21.3M

East Leeds Link Road. £20.7M

South Bradford Integrated Transport Improvements. £19.5M

Walsall Integrated Transport Strategy. £18M (PFI)

Southend A13 Passenger Corridor. £14.5M.

Salisbury Integrated Transport package £13.7M

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.