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Highways England outlines 10-year smart motorways procurement plan

M4 smart motorway scheme in operation

Highways England is making a dramatic shift towards an alliancing procurement model for its smart motorways programme over the next 10 years.

The model would move away from its current strategy of procuring on a project by project basis. Instead, it said it wanted to move to a “different level of thinking” by setting up a dedicated smart motorways alliance. 

The move will see Highways England become an integral partner of the alliance alongside three tier one contractors and two designers. A specialist logistics hub would also be set up to work across the whole alliance.

Highways England smart motorways director Shaun Pidcock said the body wanted to “buy differently” and work as an “integrated partnership in an integrated team to beat historic benchmarks on cost and production”.

“Rather than the M1, junction 13 to 16 project, for instance, we’ll be having the M1, 13 to 14, 14 to 15 breaking it down into smaller units,” said Pidcock.

“We want to break it down into smaller packages so we can put less traffic management so we can get off quicker, improve the customer experience, safety and efficiency.”

He added: “We really want engage with some of the disrupters in the market and those adding value and this should allow us to do that over an extended period rather than project by project basis.”

Under the new model, Pidcock said he wanted to see efficiencies gained by standardising as much of the design as possible such as overhead gantries.

“We’re currently prototyping a standard design. This allows us to look at the fixings and work with the tier twos and the fabricators to put a pipeline of work in front of them and not looking at the gantry on a project by project basis.

“In a perfect world, we would know there are x thousand gantries to be built and the logistics team would ensure the gantry factory was ticking over as we distribute them around.”

Contractors getting involved with the alliance should “embrace” offsite production “wherever possible”.

The body also said it wanted to bring efficiencies by engaging more with the tier two suppliers and havin a more consistent workforce rather than the current “transient” situation.

“If we do that, we can bring people on board, train them and gain efficiencies, this new model will allow us to do that.

“But we recognise that smaller companies want to contribute to that but they won’t be able to take on the liability so they ought to be rewarded differently.”

He said he expected contractors to recognise that and contractually tie in key tier two suppliers albeit with a lower level of risk. However, he said Highways England had not decided whether it would contract directly with the tier twos or not.

It is envisaged that the alliance model will last for the next 10 years covering the next two investment periods (roads investment strategy RIS 2 and 3 running from 2020 to 2025 and 2025 to 2030). Within this time Pidcock said that there would be exit arrangements made for parties which were underperforming.

At the end of the decade he said they would look to either devolve the alliance or move to a different model to allow more technology partners to be brought on board.

One of the criticisms of RIS 1 was the ramping up in spending throughout the period. However, Pidcock said he wanted the next period to have a flat spend with even amounts of work released each year to give consistency and bring efficiencies to the supply chain.

“We want contractors to help us move forward to become a much more capable client,” he said.

The next engagement days for the industry are on 5 and 6 of July with the new model expected to be unveiled in the autumn.

Funding for RIS 2 has not yet been set by the Department for Transport (DfT).

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