Tendering begins this month on a new operating model for Highways England’s maintenance arm.
The strategic highway owner and operator is trialling the new model on Area 7 in the East Midlands, which it is using instead of awarding a managing agent contract or asset support contract.
The model is designed to put the new-look Highways England firmly in control of decision-making on its network. Speaking at NCE’s UK Roads 2105 conference last week, Highways England network delivery and development director David Brewer said the new operating model is built around growing his team’s skillsets when it comes to identifying network need and developing appropriate solutions.
“What’s core for the organisation is for us to understand the asset and what are the drivers of productivity,” he said. “So to do that we need to be much closer to the action. And we need to work with designers and pavement contractors in proper collaboration not woolly collaboration,” he said. That is the thinking behind the new style of maintenance contracts about to be trialled in Area 7, he said.
“So Area 7 is as much as anything about how the organisation performs as it is the supply chain,” he said. “We will be looking for a 15 year relationship with four types of supplier who will actually deliver.”
This new operating model will comprise of four key types of contract:
- Maintenance and incident response – providing routine maintenance and responding to incidents from Highways England depots;
- Design – taking briefs from Highways England and turning them into well-defined packages of work, including repairing and reinstating the network after incidents, where necessary;
- Capital projects – contracts assembled under a framework arrangement to deliver capital projects. Includes emergency work to reinstate network where required;
- Specialist services – such as weather forecasting and laboratory testing.
Each deal could run for 15 years, although there will be review points and break clauses.
Under the new regime Highways England will take on many roles that it has not done before. Critically this includes taking responsibility for coordinating works and associated traffic management to ensure it keeps delays and congestion to a minimum – a key KPI for the new organisation.
It will also take charge of scheme identification so that it can make sure it is targeting its funds at schemes that will have the most positive impact.
And it will also take responsibility for decision making around incidents such as severe weather – again, aiding the firm deliver on its new customer service remit.
Staff will likely be transferred in from current provider AOne+ under the TUPE system.
Highways England formally revealed the plans in April and since then has held a series of industry days and formal briefings. Tendering begins next week with the formal invitation to tender issued for the maintenance and incident response contract. Tenders will be invited for capital works in September and the two remaining contracts in October.
The pavement time bomb
Highways England is acutely aware of the need to get a firm grip of the condition of its assets and how best to maintain them.
Highways England network delivery and development director David Brewer outlined how the company was facing a “pavement time bomb” as longer-lasting hot rolled asphalt surfacings laid up until the late 1990s begin life-expiring at same time as newer, shorter-life thin surfacings.
The situation has been worsened, he admitted, by cost pressures reducing the quality of asphalt specified and the way resurfacing is delivered, with most work scheduled for winter and then weather risk transferred to the supply chain – leading to asphalt that won’t last.