WORKFORCE TRAINING A MUST FOR RECEIPT OF INCENTIVE FUNDS

Local authorities in England may have to provide evidence of their highways staff competence and training as part of their bids for road maintenance incentive funding in 2020 as DfT intend to instigate the “audit and review” process for the self-assessment process. With the self-assessment questionnaires due to be presented to the Department for Transport (DfT) early 2020, the launch of the RSTA’s autumn road training programme is well-timed.

As part of their self-assessment questionnaires bids for 2020/21 road maintenance incentive fund, local authorities need to provide data to demonstrate which Band they are in. The higher the Band the higher their share of the available funds with those in Band 3 receiving their full share, Band 2 receiving 50% and Band 1 just 10%.  DfT will not necessarily want to see the supporting evidence from every local highway authority, but it may undertake sample audits for the first time. The completed self-assessment questionnaires must be submitted by February 2020. Failure to submit a questionnaire will mean that the local authority will receive nothing from the incentive fund (which makes up 20% of the traditional highways budget for most local authorities

For many local highways authorities ongoing budget constraints has seen significant cutbacks in their training budgets. This is despite their full appreciation of the importance of having a well-trained and competent workforce and the fact that having such a workforce is an important element of the Highways Sector Scheme 13 whereby the workforce competence must be proven. The impact of training cuts is further compounded by many experienced highway engineers and operatives having been made redundant or have retired and not been replaced.

Against this background is the simple fact that if road maintenance is to be correctly carried out then a well-trained and competent workforce is essential for improved health and safety, quality of work, and increased productivity.

To assist local authorities meet their training needs, RSTA has developed a comprehensive training programme specific to the road maintenance sector. The programme offers training in surface dressing, slurry surfacing, and high-friction surfacing, as well as a series of ‘highways maintenance techniques’ training days held throughout the UK that are aimed at providing asset managers with knowledge of a wide range of surface treatments for optimising the life performance and reducing the whole life cost of asphalt pavements. Courses are linked to Sector Scheme 13 for the supply and application of road surface treatments and assessment is also available for operatives at NVQ Level 2, NVQ level 3 for Foremen and for supervisors at NVQ Level 4.

In addition, RSTA is working closely with local authority organisations such as LCRIG to deliver specific training events that facilitate best value through collaboration by allowing local authorities to train together. The RSTA is also collaborating with Xais Asset Management to provide skid policy courses for local authorities.

Mike Harper, chief executive at the RSTA commented: “In recent years, we have encouraged local authorities to collaborate and get engineers together from neighbouring authorities as well as their own staff.  We can provide training courses within a local authorities own premises for a fixed cost. Not only does this save on associated travel and hotel costs by taking the course to the learners, but by local authorities grouping together to get higher numbers of attendees for a one off fixed costs, the cost per learner may be more than halved, making those training budgets go further.”

He continued: “The inclusion of workforce competence and training within the incentive fund self-assessment underlines the essential role that training has in delivering cost efficient road maintenance. This is not lost on the DfT who very keen to see local authorities collaborating with each other and the supply chain. The RSTA autumn training programme is an excellent opportunity to do just that.”

BREXIT IS NOT VOTERS ONLY CONCERN SO ARE POTHOLES

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge of a one-off £1.8bn cash boost for the NHS shows that he knows that come a General Election Brexit is not the only concern of voters. He would be well-advised to also address to deteriorating local road network.

Decades of under investment has resulted in a deteriorating local road network riddled with potholes. The bill to restore the road network to a decent standard is £9.79 billion because successive governments have failed to provide the funding levels required to carry out the necessary levels of road maintenance. Continued cutbacks in local authority funding means that the situation can only get worse.

“Any political party that commits to real investment in our local road network would have significant approval from voters,” said Mike Harper, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

With thirty five million drivers in the UK, most with the ability to vote, the prime minister would be well-advised to take note of that concern. Of particular concern is that the billions of tax paid by drivers does not seem to go towards funding a better road network.  Motorists pay £58 billion in taxation to the Exchequer – £26.9 billion in fuel duty, £25 billion VAT on fuel and £6.1 billion for other motoring taxes. Against this just £2.06 billion is provided by central government as funding for local road maintenance. Furthermore, as it is not ring-fenced, the funding may not even be spent on road maintenance but on other council services as cash-strapped councils struggle to balance the books.

RSTA is calling for the investment of an additional 2p per litre taken from the existing fuel duty to fix the plague of potholes. This would provide an extra £1 billion to fix roads.

“A further £1 billion annual investment would certainly help local authorities tackle the damage done by under-investment by successive governments,” argued Harper. “The poor state of our roads is a major social and economic issue. Voters should make it a political issue too asking the party activists and parliamentary candidates what their political party plans to do to increase investment in their local roads.”

In addition, RSTA is calling for a 5 year funding settlement for local roads, as is the case for the strategic road network, so that highway managers can make long term decisions about how to manage their pavement assets, rather than relying on twindling budgets that are topped up on an ad hoc basis by additional pothole funding. Harper said: “Appropriate funding as part of a 5 year settlement will allow highway authorities to intervene with surface treatments, at the appropriate time in a roads life, to avoid potholes forming in the first place.”

ROAD SURFACE AUTUMN TRAINING PROGRAMME LAUNCHED

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has launched its Autumn 2019 training programme.

Aimed at asset managers and highway engineers, the courses have been developed to ensure that highway departments choose the right process or product for the right place at the right time. Courses include slurry and micro-surfacing, surface dressing, and collaboration with LCRIG’s southern technical training day, following a successful northern event in March.

All the RSTA courses are Silver Certificate and as such are compliant with the requirements of Sector Scheme 13 for road surface treatments. Full details of the training programme can be found at www.rsta-uk.org

INCREASED SPENDING ON LOCAL ROADS COULD BE POST-BREXIT AND VOTE WINNER FOR TORY CONTENDERS

The two Tory contenders vying to become party leader and Prime Minister have set out their initial spending plans to ensure that post-Brexit the UK is open for business and that the Conservatives have a shot of winning the next General Election. Investing in improving the deteriorating local road network would help them meet both objectives believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

“If they want to ensure that Britain is open for business then Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt should both be calling for increased investment in a well-maintained local road network”, said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive. “A well-maintained local road network is essential for our national economic prosperity. It is the prerequisite link to the national road and rail network, to the ports and airports, between peoples’ homes and places of work.

Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to recognise this and despite the vast majority of journeys being taken using the local road network, it has failed to match the expenditure provided to maintain the national road network with that provided to maintain the local road network. National roads and motorway maintenance receives 53 times more funding than local roads.”

Harper points out that result of the lack of spending on road maintenance, according to the latest ALARM Survey from the Asphalt Industries Association, is that one-in-five local roads are classed as being structurally poor and in such a bad condition that they need to be replaced within the next five years.

The need for greater investment in local road maintenance is supported by the research and survey evidence from key industry organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce, the EEF and the CBI who all report that their members believe that the deteriorating state of the local road network is increasingly a barrier to business.

The poor potholed state of many of our roads is of considerable concern to many drivers. With thirty five million drivers in the UK, most with the ability to vote, any future prime minister would be well advised to take note of that concern. Of particular concern is that the billions of tax paid by drivers does not seem to go towards funding a better road network. . Motorists pay £58 billion in taxation to the Exchequer – £26.9 billion in fuel duty, £25 billion VAT on fuel and £6.1 billion for other motoring taxes. Against this just £2.06 billion is provided by central government as funding for local road maintenance. Furthermore, as it is not ring-fenced, the funding may not even be spent on road maintenance but on other council services as cash-strapped councils struggle to balance the books. The result is a deteriorating local road network that needs £9.79 billion to bring it back up to a satisfactory standard.

Harper said: “Johnson and Hunt both need to prove that they fully recognise the social and the economic benefits of a well-maintained local road network and that they are ready to provide the necessary levels of funding. Such investment would provide a national economic boost, would relieve cash-strapped local councils and would prove to be a vote winner.”

ROADS INDUSTRY WELCOMES MPS’ CALL FOR FIVE-YEAR FUNDING SETTLEMENT

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed MP’s calls for the end of erratic funding for local road maintenance that forces short-term, reactive pothole repairs rather than proactive planned programmes of long-term preventative maintenance.

The House of Commons Transport Committee latest report ‘Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap’, addresses the extreme state of disrepair of the English local road network and states that the only way forward is a front-loaded, five- year funding settlement that will enable local authorities to plan ahead.

The MPs’ point out that potholes are a safety risk, particularly for cyclists, and a deteriorating road network undermines local economic performance whilst repairing potholes rather than preventing them from forming in the first place does not make economic sense.

In a damning indictment of the current state of local roads, the Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said: “Local roads are the arteries of our villages, towns and cities, but most people won’t have to go further than the local shops to spot a pothole that poses a risk of injury or damage. Local authorities are in the invidious position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul. Cash-strapped councils are raiding their highways and transport budgets to fund core services.

Now is the time for the Department to propose a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.”

RSTA has long argued for government to recognise the social and economic importance of having a well-maintained local road network and of the need to provide assured and adequate levels of funding.

“What is needed is proper assured funding that enable planned five year maintenance programmes. Inadequate levels of investment topped up by the odd, ad-hoc funding allocation does not allow local highway authorities to plan and implement the programmes of maintenance that would prevent potholes from forming in the first place,” said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.

“We warmly welcome and support the recommendations of the Transport Committee that the Department for Transport work with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to propose a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.”

BLACKPOOL’S PROJECT AMBER FACILITATES ROAD INNOVATION VIA COLLABORATION

Blackpool Council has launched a new collaborative initiative with the roads surface treatments supply chain. Project Amber is a new roads asset management strategy that aims to involve the supply chain in examining and forwarding innovative road maintenance materials and techniques. It has been launched with the support of the Local Councils Road Innovation Group (LCRIG) and the Roads Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Project Amber is a progression of Project 30 which was launched by Blackpool in 2011. This delivered a one-time asset management upgrade that took many of Blackpool’s roads from a red condition to green. The new initiative builds upon this success by proactively intervening, with a range of highway surface treatments at the appropriate time rather than leave roads surfaces to deteriorate to the point where larger scale and more disruptive intervention and reconstruction in required.

A feature of Project Amber is the invitation to the supply chain to actively view the conditions of roads in twelve selected wards within Blackpool and then forward proposals for solutions. This is supported by the use of Gaist survey and mapping advanced technology that provides detailed knowledge and understanding of how the roads infrastructure is performing.

Project Amber is the first LCRIG site trial which will be viewed and monitored by other Councils and the Department for Transport.

Will Britain, Head of highways and traffic management at Blackpool Council, said: “Project Amber will forward collaboration with the supply chain and the development and implementation of innovative solutions. In addition, via LCRIG, it will allow other local council highway authorities to tap into the knowledge and resources of the supply chain. Such collaboration will optimise the use of resources and funding.”

Project Amber will see the use of innovative techniques and materials to repair and maintain roads. The treatments will take account of what stage the road surface is in its lifecycle. This means that roads that are still in fairly good condition will be treated to preserve their condition thus preventing deterioration in mid-life. “It’s all about using the right treatment, in the right place, at the right time and at the right cost,” said Britain.

Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive, said: “This is an ideal opportunity for our members to work with Blackpool to keep its roads in optimum condition. The prudential borrowing of funds by Blackpool for a one-time upgrade was a bold move. This is the next step to ensure that they remain in good condition.”

Collaboration is key to the success of Project Amber. This was underlined by Paula Claytonsmith, managing director of Gaist, who said: “We have worked with Blackpool Council for nearly ten years and are pleased to continue to support their latest high profile innovation. We have opened our detailed damage analysis and systems to all those who attended the launch as part of our ongoing commitment to support right place, right time treatments.”

The project has gained the attention of the Department for Transport. Steve Berry, Head of local roads at the Department for Transport, said: “We hope that Project Amber will act as a showcase of what can be achieved by local authorities working in partnership with the supply chain to achieve lower whole life costs in highway maintenance through the use of surface treatments.”

LONDON HAS THE ROAD NETWORK OF A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY

News that the local road maintenance backlog in London is now over £1bn should sound a warning bell for the government. Continued funding cutbacks and decades of lack of investment in local road maintenance means that some areas of London, the capital of a first world city, have the road network more suited to a third world country said the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

The latest ‘State of the city’ survey, carried out by Atkins on behalf of London Councils and the London Technical Advisers Group, has found that the total maintenance backlog is estimated to be £1.02bn up from £907m. The survey covers the roads managed by London’s boroughs who manage 95% of the capital’s roads.

“The problem is not just a lack of funding, but a lack of funding consistency and predictability,” said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive. “The current network spend is £300m a year against a need to spend at least £350m a year. Despite increased asset management and cost efficiencies London’s highway authorities are fighting a losing battle. Highway professionals want to follow the new code of practice, ‘Well Managed Highways’ as well as implement industry recommendations but the annual funding allocation, occasionally topped-up by spot-funding at odd times of the year, does not allow the planning required for good asset management. This is necessary for planning the right road surface treatments in the right places at the right time of year in order to maximise the life of roads in the most cost effective way.”

London councils expect government core funding to reduce by 63% in real terms over the decade to 2020. They have to fund the maintenance of their roads from budgets that are shrinking and, as they are not ring-fenced, are subject to being ransacked to pay for other council services.

“Years of under-funding means that despite their best efforts councils are unable to halt the continued deterioration of the London roads. The resulting rutted, potholed network is more third world than the capital of the worlds’ fifth largest economy,” said Harper. “The roads surface industry knows how to achieve better results than this. What we need is a five year settlement for local roads, similar to that used for the national road network. This would allow our highway engineers to deliver the improved road network that Londoners need and have a right to expect.”

COUNCIL FUNDING BLACK HOLE HAS SEVERE ROAD CONSEQUENCES

Predictions that councils in England could face a funding black hole of over £50bn over the next six years would see even less being spent on local road maintenance as councils would be forced to raid their highway budgets in order to fund social care and other services.

An independent analysis of councils’ financial sustainability up to 2025 by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) for the County Councils Network (CCN) has found that the rising demand for services plus rising costs could result in councils needing an additional £51.8bn over the period 2019-2025.

This funding black hole could have severe repercussions on road maintenance expenditure explained Mike Harper, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA):  “Councils are being forced to make difficult choices and as road maintenance budgets are not ring fenced this makes them an easy target. Over the last few years we have seen the compound effect of consecutive years of underfunding on basic road maintenance. This has caused the pothole epidemic – an indication of the state of road surfaces as a whole. The local road network is a council’s most important infrastructure asset yet they are forced to raid their highway budgets to fund other services. Local authorities reported an increase in funding allocation last year, but it is essential those funds are protected and are used for road maintenance”.

According to the latest Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM Survey decades of government underfunding local road maintenance means that one-in-five local roads are so structurally poor that they may need replacing in five years. Harper said: “This is such a poor way to maintain our roads, to let them get into such a poor condition that replacement is the only option. Timely intervention, as part of a planned asset management strategy, is the way forward, using road surface treatments that can increase the longevity of the road at a fraction of the price of replacement and with much less disruption to road users”.

Harper continued: “A well-maintained local road network is essential for the national economic prosperity of the country. It is the prerequisite link to the national road and rail network, to the ports and airports, between peoples’ homes and places of work. It is too important an asset for its already limited budgets to be used as a reserve to dip into to fund other council services.

Faced with continued budgetary cutbacks and rising demand and costs councils have striven to increase productivity and efficiencies yet there is only so much that they can do. Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that allow funding for all areas of services. The Well Managed Highways Code of Practice is now in place for authorities to practice proper asset management. Let’s give the highways maintenance professionals the security of funding they need to be able to follow this guidance by providing a 5 year ring fenced settlement for local roads.”

LOCAL ROADS NOT IN GREAT SHAPE IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT

Jesse Norman, the transport minister, has a genius for understatement, believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).  Giving evidence to the Commons Select Transport Committee investigation into local funding and governance, Norman described the local road network as being “not in great shape”.

Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive’ said: “When the recent Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM survey reports that one in five local roads will need replacing within the next years due to their poor structural condition, that it would cost £9.8 billion to bring the local road network up to a reasonable standard, that local roads are only resurfaced every 67 years.  I would say that they are in a critical condition rather than not being in good shape.”

Harper explained how decades of chronic under-investment by successive governments in long-term maintenance: “This has left a legacy of rutted, potholed roads for which local councils are forced to carry out patch-and-mend repairs rather than undertake planned programmes of maintenance that could stop the potholes from forming in the first place.”

He pointed out that despite the economic and social importance of a road network on which the vast majority of journeys begin and end there is no long-term funding strategy for local roads. This is stark contrast to the strategic road network which has a five years assured funding that allows for long-term planning and delivery.

“The local road network must have assured long-term ring-fenced funding that will enable local councils to undertake the programmes of maintenance that are so desperately needed. Failure to provide this will continue the legacy of potholes.”