Working with the supply chain to deliver a challenging Road Investment Strategy

2 August 2017

By Peter Antolik, Director, Highways

ORR recently published its annual assessment of Highways England’s performance in 2016-17. It shows that Highways England is performing well against the outcomes specified in the government’s five-year Road Investment Strategy, for the period until 2019/20. But with traffic increasing the challenges will only get tougher, and the company needs to continue to focus on maintaining the safety of our roads. The company also needs to develop clear plans for maintaining road user satisfaction in a period of increased investment in the network.

There's good news about two of the issues raised in last year’s annual assessment. We highlighted concerns that the majority of schemes in the current five-year period were planned to start in the final year, and questioned whether this was efficient or deliverable. Highways England is reviewing its plans for major improvements to smooth out this peak in work and develop its understanding and mitigation of risks to delivery, in what continues to be an ambitious investment programme. We also identified challenges the company faces in improving its asset management. With Highways England’s support we've since done in-depth reviews into both of these issues and the company has developed plans to address the recommendations made.

Part of the reason for the Road Investment Strategy, supported by more than £11 billion of funding over the first five years, is to provide certainty to the contractors and suppliers that work for Highways England. Over the last year we've been talking extensively with Highways England’s supply chain to get their views on what's working, and better understand the challenges they face. The clear message we received was strong support for the objectives of the Road Investment Strategy and Highways England’s creation, as strategic roads are an important part of their business activities.

Our latest review of the supply chain, published last month , shows that Highways England and its supply chain have made progress in responding to the ambitious investment plans, for example, by taking steps to encourage more apprenticeships. The review also noted that, while visibility of the major scheme programme has improved, Highways England could consider how it can contract with its supply chain earlier to help improve planning.

We believe there are opportunities too for more efficiency through Highways England developing a robust process for managing programmes or portfolios of schemes. In the case of maintenance and renewals, there are opportunities to plan better what work will be undertaken during the year; spreading activity across the year and so avoiding the usual end of year peak. This would save the company money and also help ensure that the improvements last longer – delivering a better “whole life cost” for this work.