Will consultants start taking client decisions?
Greater depth of engineering knowledge and an independent outlook are said to be vital to improving bid assessment.
Hampshire's Tony Ciaburro, who expects to unveil a top up contract in April, says: 'We would expect a partner to sit at the table with us during the tender process. They have a better understanding of the contractors' and consultants' needs and of contract preparation, design and construction.'
Hampshire will concentrate on the overall strategy and planning process. The consultant will add engineering and project management skills.
'It's about recognising each other's strengths and not duplicating or usurping them, ' says Ciaburro.
Mouchel's John Amos is not so sure that consultants will go much much beyond designing and project managing schemes. 'I think in many cases client decisions will mainly remain client side but we will be there alongside them to offer advice.'
Will consultants be moving into town halls en masse?
Partners could occupy the same office in some cases, but it is more likely that consultants will operate from an office nearby because local authorities do not have the room. Much of the design will be done remotely. Dorset chose Buro Happold because the consultant had an office in Bath and it was felt that there was a strong cultural link. Norfolk and Mott MacDonald have organised staff secondments to each other's offices.
Shared location is not necessary so long as consultants use engineers who are familiar with an area, says Ciaburro. Having an office nearby also gives both partners the chance to move staff around. 'It could be that our engineers move into their offices for some projects, ' says Ciaburro.
Will they live in harmony?
It is hoped that the contract will remain locked in a draw. 'If we get someone who matches our culture we can resolve problems at the outset and build trust, ' says Ciaburro.
Buro Happold will help deliver a programme that includes the £30M Weymouth Relief Road. The firm was signed up after exhaustive interviews and workshops held with staff on each side to iron out unhelpful preconceptions.
Mouchel has agreements in place with Hertfordshire since last year: 'We haven't looked at our contracts in Hertfordshire once, ' says Amos.
A bonus is built in to top up contracts if agreed performance indicators are met. Bespoke contracts are usually drawn up using the Engineering Construction Contract (ECC) Professional Services Edition as a guide.
Will partnerships between local authorities and consultants become the norm?
'Partnering not the answer to all contract delivery. Standing contracts will be right in many cases, ' says Dorset's Guy Spencer. Hampshire's Ciaburro adds: 'We are looking at partnering as part of the solution, not the whole solution.'
Leicester City Council is tendering for an agreement with a group of consultants to establish quality suppliers but then pitch them against each other for each project to get the lowest price.
Other local authorities have 'standing orders' to supply consultants with work.
WS Atkins has such an arrangement with Cambridgeshire County Council and Babtie has one with Nottinghamshire County Council.
The ICE is developing a new contract - the ECC partnering supplement expected in the next couple of months. It will allow for contracts to be changed half way through and local authorities to engage more than one partner.
What will these partnerships achieve?
Local authorities need the guarantee that consultants can give them engineers on tap in return for steady five year workload.
Hampshire expects to spend £350M on local transport over the next five years. The last time it had resources like this, they were focused on a few large road schemes, says Ciaburro. The programme is now made up of over 600 smaller schemes such as traffic management and bus priority projects, requiring very specialised skills and, fingers crossed, the county's proposed light rail scheme.
Consultants will help local authorities to build multidisciplinary teams. 'People have been put into boxes, ' says Ciaburro. 'Highway engineers just work on highway engineering and can develop narrow views.'
A council may want an engineer specialising in cycling schemes to cross over into planning, environmental and highway engineering.
Ready made teams will lead to less processing of tenders and faster delivery.
What work needs doing?
Government local transport spending via local transport plans will rise steadily from £1.36bn this year to £1.52bn next year and peak at £1.94bn in 2004/5. The £8.4bn over the next five years includes £4.4bn on public transport schemes, £3bn on road maintenance and £1bn on major road schemes. The Government will spend nearly £20bn on local transport by 2010.
Leeds City Council will have nearly £60M at its disposal to build the Leeds Inner Ring Road and East Link Road.
Liverpool City Council will use much of its £45M on 25 rail station upgrades and 15 transport interchanges.
Suffolk County Council's road maintenance allocation has tripled from £4.5M to £13.5M.
The latest settlement provides for 67 schemes worth £5M or more. This includes 28 public transport schemes, 39 major road schemes and 8,200 small schemes. Forty seven major schemes have been 'provisionally' accepted and 20 have firm acceptances.