Value and Efficiency Gains Can Become Business As Usual

We can all agree that greater efficiency and value are desirable outcomes from highways projects. Where it gets difficult is having a common definition of exactly what those terms mean or how to achieve them.

Creating contractual relationships that incentivise efficiency and value is harder still. It’s something that exercises highways authorities the world over. Incentives and disincentives related to quality and completion times are notoriously hard to calculate.

And whose costs do we consider? Clients, contractors, road users, or environmental costs of increased vehicle emissions from vehicles held up by the works? The sums are not straightforward.

One thing is for certain; we will not break the mould when it comes to efficiency and value with adversarial contractual relationships. Nor will we do it by drafting ever more detailed contract terms and specifications that seek to remove any risks from procurement. Delivering to the letter of the specification, and no more, will leave potential value gains unexplored and unrealised.

One way forward lies in greater trust and openness. Contractors being open about real costs and margins, and customers being prepared to share the benefits of efficiency gains. When we’re not focused on fighting our own corner we can all put the needs of the project and of end users first.

The other major step needed is for contractors to be involved much earlier in the process. Bringing practical experience into the design phase means that value gains can be designed in from the outset and incorporated into the project plan. This is much more productive than trying to change details once the project is in full swing.

The collaborative spirit we have created within the rail environment with Network Rail and our One Team Wessex and Connect Plus frameworks demonstrates that more enlightened approaches are not only possible, but that they also work.

The focus shifts to making sure that every time a piece of transport infrastructure is closed we achieve as much as possible and prevent follow-up works in the same area. Better integration of enhancement, renewal and maintenance work is a common goal and a feature of how all partners work together.

Shortening work schedules and minimising inconvenience for travellers is a shared priority and we actively look for opportunities to collaborate with nearby schemes to reduce total disruption.

Greater efficiency and value from highways project are attainable. We just need better ways for asset owners, operators, designers and contractors to work together.