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Improving procurement and contract management in the highways sector

Source: PSE - Aug/Sep 15

The Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme has launched an updated standard form of contract and procurement suite to aid both local authorities and contractors. Adam Hewitt spoke to Meg Booth, highways intelligence group manager at Devon County Council, one of the councils that’s helped to develop the new documents.

HMEP, the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme, is a sector-led, DfT-funded transformation programme. 

It has just launched a new suite of resources to simplify and standardise the way highways authorities procure services and manage their contracts, plus a price list of about 2,000 frequently bought items and a standard ‘method of measurement’ providing new definitions, units and rules where none exist currently. 

The document suite has been produced thanks to close collaboration between the public and private sectors. 

Meg Booth, highways intelligence group manager at Devon County Council, told PSE: “It’s been quite interesting working with the private sector and members of the HTMA (Highways Term Maintenance Association, a trade association) specifically, and from the consultancy side of things. 

“It’s good to see other people’s viewpoints on individual items; we can see why we want it written in a specific way, but then maybe also understand other people’s viewpoints on why they want different wording of the specification, or just a simplification of it. It means we can understand why from other people’s perspectives, things we do that we think are helpful actually aren’t.” 

Devon was particularly keen to take part because its strategic director of place, Heather Barnes, is president of Adept (the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport) this year. Booth said: “She was keen, from an Adept perspective, that more local authorities should be involved in this HMEP process, which is why we’ve embraced getting involved in the project.

“The new suite of documents offers consistency, so the market knows what to expect going forward. Instead of having umpteen different specifications written by individual local authorities, we’re trying to issue a specification which is common to the market. So in terms of contractors’ involvement, at the procurement stage, it should make it easier for them as well. So it’s about efficiency: making life better for everybody.” 

Keith Gale, from Hampshire County Council, added: “I would encourage all involved with the tendering, pricing and administration of highways-related term contracts to examine and use the method of measurement and price list produced by HMEP. For the first time it provides standard descriptions, measurement guidance and item coverage for contracts of this type. This allows all parties to clearly understand their roles, responsibilities, duties and risks involved in contracts. Having a uniform basis upon which to express these in economic terms must be a way forward.” 

The form of contract chosen is from the NEC suite – specifically, the NEC3 Term Service Contract, with amendments. Rekha Thawrani, general manager for NEC, said: “While better roads remain a key priority for the government, the purpose of the HMEP has been to harness the expertise of the businesses that will be procured to deliver improved highways efficiently set against a backdrop of tighter budgets, increased costs and greater demand.” 

She said the contract used within the programme is “a key simplifying and enabling document, which promotes both efficient best practice and fair project collaboration”. 

A £578m incentive fund has also been set up to reward local authorities that can demonstrate efficiencies, as part of a wider £6bn pot to help councils fix local roads over the next six years. Winning money from the incentive fund will largely depend on whether councils act in line with the recommendations from the HMEP. 

David Binding from the HTMA reference group said the amount of cross-sector collaboration had been “groundbreaking”, and said he is sure the new contract and document suite will cut procurement costs. 

Matthew Lugg, director of public services for Mouchel Infrastructure Services, was seconded to the Department for Transport to work on HMEP. He said: “Last year, the highways sector kept England’s local roads moving for over 47 million users. The importance of a well-maintained road network to economic prosperity and to local communities is higher than ever before. 

“This improved suite of resources, developed by the sector to help simplify and standardise the way local highway authorities procure highway services and manage their term maintenance contracts, is now available. The NEC contract is at the heart of this framework, and we’re grateful to the contracts team for their significant support in revamping the scheme.” 

Booth said the HMEP team are now looking ahead to elements currently missing from the document suite, and will continue working with Devon and other councils to develop these.

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