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WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE?

We asked five senior local government engineers to confess to NCE their biggest challenges, opportunities and predictions for the future.

Julia Barrett
Cambridgeshire County County and CSS spokeswoman on waste issues

1. What are the biggest challenges facing local government engineers at present?
The big challenge for any waste disposal authority is to meet their Landfill allowance targets under the EU Landfill Directive.
Authorities have set about meeting these challenging targets in a variety of ways, with Energy from Waste (EfW) and Mechanical and Biological Treatment (MBT) being the most popular.Both technologies are considerably more expensive than traditional landfilling of waste, and many are struggling with how to finance it.Many authorities have chosen to use the Government's PFI funding route, but several have found the criteria too difficult to meet in the time available. For example, the need to secure planning permission for infrastructure before you submit your business case for PFI credits is a big ask.

2. What changes would improve service delivery?
The Government needs to give councils more support to develop privately financed waste management schemes and the new Waste Infrastructure Development Programme (WIPD) will help deliver this. This should lead to much more successful local authority waste management PFIs.
We welcomed the National Waste Strategy but were disappointed by the lack of targets set for the Private Sector. Local Authorities focus on household waste but that only accounts for about 10% of all waste. There's a debate to be had about creating incentives for local authorities to handle "trade waste" from local businesses. There may be scope for them to start doing this by using the new supplementary business rate.

3. What changes for local government engineers do you forsee?
I think most waste authorities will make the 2010 Landfill Directive targets, but things will really start to get tough a year or two after that as the allowances continue to fall.
I think there will be a lot more Mechanical and Biological Treatment plants (MBT) in operation. At the moment there are severe limitations on how and where the compost-like output can be used because of the household waste it comes from, but that could change when what goes into your bin is more controlled through the implementation of the Waste Framework Directive and through good process control in the MBT Plants.


Jim Valentine
Chair of Municipal Expert Panel, Institution of Civil Engineers

1. What are the biggest challenges facing local government engineers at present?
In many areas the public sector's obsession with regulation and adverse attitude to risk means that officers' drive for efficiency is being stifled. Despite protracted debate at the highest political level a reasonable
balance has not yet been struck in this area.
In addition, skills shortages continue to cause problems across all public sector
disciplines.
We need to ensure that organisations are clearly communicating their needs to academia and professional bodies.

2. What changes would improve service delivery?
A clearer policy for infrastructure provision and maintenance linked to a sustainable funding stream would assist most in meeting the challenges.
A recognition that innovation does not thrive in an environment of over regulation would help, and a removal of the barriers to more radical innovation would also help.
National and local governments continue to sink more cash into iconic projects such as light rail and tramways ignoring the fact that the keys to a decent public transport system outside the major metropolises are trams which can drive off their rails - ie buses. These need a sound base infrastructure to operate on to keep journey times down.

3. What changes for local government engineers do you forsee?
For individual public sector engineers the immediate future is bright as the continuing skills shortage and the worth placed on good project management skills elevate the profile of the profession.
For public sector engineering however, the future is not as good. A continuing lack of investment will result in more time spent on explaining to people why things can't happen and sinking more funds into short term re-active maintenance.


Edward Chorlton
Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Environment, Economy and Culture, Devon County Council

1. What are the biggest challenges facing local government engineers at present?
The biggest challenge we face is budgets, particularly highway budgets, with construction inflation. The other big challenge relates to Local Area Agreements of which the second versions are currently being drafted. We have to get our heads around new ways of doing things under these agreements.
We also need to make sure that we deliver proposed waste to energy targets by 2010 or else we will be facing fines under the new legislation to cut waste to landfill.
Exeter has provisional approval to
become a unitary authority by 2009. The challenge to bring two organisations
together is a big one.

2. What changes would improve service delivery?
Budgets need to reflect the fact that construction inflation is running well ahead of inflation. In real terms budgets are being cut. In the last three or four years construction inflation has been very high and proposed increases in highway revenue spending from the government is zero.
We are able to get on with things and do a good job but the thing that gets in the way is budgets

3. What changes for local government engineers do you forsee?
We should stop talking about climate change and get down to the specifics of planning. We need to be clearer about how climate change is already affecting us as local authorities, for example in drainage systems and resilience to storms.
We need to be clear about what processes need to change to take account of climate change. It's going to happen in the next 50 years so it's very important. We can't just sit and wait for things to happen. We need to get involved in the work ahead to develop non-polluting energy forms.
There will be a greater emphasis on improving the public realm. Engineers working on highways will increasingly be working on public spaces. There will be more emphasis on people movement and things people want to do to the overall public realm. We will have a bigger role to play in managing that.

Tony Ciaburro
Service Director for Highways and Transportation, Essex County Council

1. What are the biggest challenges facing local government engineers at present?
The biggest challenge is our ability to secure the funding necessary to deliver even the basics, particularly around maintenance and other revenue spending.
The reason for that is the extra pressure on our social services and education budgets. People are living longer and spending longer in care and changing regulations mean there is a greater duty of care. That's put a huge burden on resources and there is less money for transport, especially after such a tight Comprehensive Spending Review.
The targets for hitting recycling because of the landfill tax mean that waste is going to be a big challenge.

2. What changes would improve
service delivery?
The hoops we have to go through to bid for various government and regional agency pots of money is frustrating. We put a lot of resources and effort into it but often it goes against sensible planning.
The process for delivering major infrastructure projects is still too long. To go from conception to implementation can take more than a decade and it's very, very hard to secure up front resources. Trying to plan 10 years ahead is a bit of a leap of faith which doesn't make it any easier for us to deliver.

3. What changes for local government engineers do you forsee?
We will be more involved in consultation. We will have to provide more evidence to support arguments in favour of projects and that will become an increasingly onerous task because of the extent of the support and opposition that emerges every time we want to build something major. The level of information we will have to produce will be a further drain on resources.
It will continue to be difficult to recruit engineers and transport planners with sufficient skills and quality and with the London 2012 site so nearby it will get even harder for us.
We hope to see a more streamlined planning process but we will see.

Martin Tugwell
Development Director, South East Regional Assembly

1. What are the biggest challenges facing local government engineers at present?
Bidding for a plethora of government funding pots is very challenging. We have to simplify the culture of so many initiatives and funding streams. Anyone wanting to promote capital expenditure in transport can do it through their Local Transport Plan or as part of a Regional Funding Allocation, Community Infrastructure Fund, Growth Area funding, Transport Innovation Fund, the list goes on. We need to step back and ask what is it we are trying to deliver?

2. What changes would improve service delivery?
There is still a gap in planning for schemes that are higher than the local level but smaller than the national level. The government needs to have more confidence in planning at a regional level.
There are very good professionals doing the analysis, developing strategies and coming up with action plans. But we need to guard against analysis paralysis and develop those skills to help us apply them more effectively. We need more project management co-ordination skills to take us from action plan to development plan on site.
In terms of capital spending, if we are going to deliver sustainable growth we have to invest in infrastructure and we need to keep lobbying for the money. At the moment local authorities are often too constrained to do PFI schemes and the government needs to look at that.

3. What changes for local government engineers do you forsee?
Regional Planning Bodies will work more closely with Regional Development Agencies. Clearly if we are going to deliver the economic regeneration of a coastal town, for example, we are going to need investment in new transport infrastructure, schools and health infrastructure. We need to work together on a single regional regeneration strategy.
There's a debate going at the moment about how we manage that transition. The move to Local Area Agreements is a good start in that direction.
There is very little difference between a growth area and a regeneration area but putting funding applications together for these different pots costs time and money.

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