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Transport revolution hit by skills shortage

INTEGRATED TRANSPORT in the UK could be derailed by the lack of 'high quality' transport engineers, NCE has learned.

Lack of trained staff has forced transport consultants to urge the Government to slow the pace of preparatory work.

Consultants this week warned that gearing up to tackle the Government's second tranche of multimodal transport studies - vital in enabling local authority integrated transport strategies to be put in place - is likely to overstretch available resources.

Terry Mulroy of consultant TPI, which is involved in the West Midlands study, said: 'This is a massive programme of multimodal studies but there is a tremendous shortage of qualified and experienced transport engineers. The Government is moving too quickly on this and should slow its study programme down.'

The multimodal studies, along with work for local authorities on the first five year local transport plans which are due in at the end of next month, have sparked a recruiting frenzy.

Engineers are reported to have been poached from local authorities and Government offices or snapped up instantly by new private sector employers with salaries rising by up to 20%.

One consultant told NCE: 'We've had the staff available for the first tranche of studies but what worries me is that when all the studies in the second tranche are let, some of the later ones will not have the experienced staff available.'

Another warned that only large consultants working in partnership would now be able to bid for work, virtually wiping out competition in the sector.

The next multimodal studies will examine traffic reduction possibilities in route corridors to determine whether new major road building schemes should go ahead.

Consultants have already been forced to team up to carry out the first tranche of 11 multimodal studies and six roads based studies that were commissioned in the spring. But concern surrounds the next tranche of seven multimodal schemes and four roads based studies, which are due to be tendered in the summer.

Mulroy warned that the boom in consultancy could not be solved by simply taking on more graduates. 'It would take quite a long time to train someone for this type of work, ' he said. 'We are therefore not allowing early retirement and there are a lot of people who took early retirement in the mid 1990s who are now being brought back in.'

The integrated transport studies come just as Government is about to unveil its ten year spending plan for transport. This is predicted to put further pressure on consultants as road schemes and public transport projects are put back on the agenda with a fresh injection of public cash.

Other work tying up consultants' resources includes the vast number of so called green travel plans commissioned by private sector firms to help meet their integrated transport desires.

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