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The Institute of
Asset Management magazine

Six in one

Six UK local authorities working together improved highway asset management more than any one could alone. Andrew Molyneux explains.

The six local authorities of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) region joined forces back in 2014. To meet the strategic needs and efficiency demands of modern public sector organisations, the authorities are transforming the way they manage their highway infrastructure assets.

The combined forces of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield and York have delivered transformational change in asset management that has benefited all six authorities. Together, the authorities delivered the change more quickly and efficiently than any of them could have achieved alone.

The authorities are responsible for managing 10,500 kilometres of roads, 1,800 bridges, 274,000 street lights and associated footways and traffic signals. The assets make up around four per cent of England's entire local road network and support a city region housing 3 million residents and 119,000 businesses.

The management of highways assets is vital to the region's economy. And with such extensive assets and limited public funds, it is incumbent on local authorities to make informed investment decisions.

The member authorities have had a close relationship for many years but have generally delivered services according to individual custom and practice, not always with best regard to whole-lifecycle sustainability or reaping the benefits of collaboration.

With pockets within the highways industry beginning to realise significant efficiencies from implementing asset management, the opportunities to work together and share expertise were enormous, especially against the backdrop of a challenging local authority economy. The route to the greatest efficiency, as far as the authorities could see, was to develop the most consistent possible approach to asset management across the region.

When the UK government announced the Incentive Fund for highways assets, the authorities' own dry-run assessments indicated the majority could be at risk of losing much-needed funding. They found themselves under both reputational and financial pressure to improve their Incentive Fund scores. (And as an added incentive, improving these scores would also involve improving services.)

Transform together

To make this happen, all authority representatives needed to buy into a collaborative project to transform highway asset management across the region.

The WYCA Transport Board and the individual authorities' Chief Officers made it a priority to transform asset management together. The business case was clear that asset management was the catalyst for making the best use of scarce resources and maximising government funding. Between the start of the project and 2021, there is £15 million in government funding at stake if the team does not deliver.

The Group also saw an opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Highway Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP)'s Highway Infrastructure Asset Management Guidance.

“…the opportunities to work together and share expertise were enormous, especially against the backdrop of a challenging local authority economy”

The authorities built a team of asset managers to develop processes together. The team is now part-way through a longterm programme of business improvement. Progress to date has been significant.

At the outset, the team put time into understanding each highway authority's individual position on asset management. This understanding revealed opportunities to work together and develop a common asset management implementation framework.

Resources within local authorities are increasingly stretched. Representatives found that they had the knowledge and expertise to move this work forward, but not the time. The cost benefit of engaging someone short-term to complete this work, when shared between six authorities, was evident.

After a short competitive exercise, the authorities commissioned Metis Consultants to develop an asset management maturity assessment. Based on ISO55000, the assessment identified the six highway authorities' position in relation to the 14 recommendations of the HMEP Guidance, plus some additional efficiency and collaboration elements.

“…Realising they had a shared vision and individual areas of expertise gave the authorities confidence that a joint approach could be achieved”

The assessment showed the different authorities' asset management implementation priorities were generally aligned, with a spread of strengths and weaknesses across the asset management elements. Realising they had a shared vision and individual areas of innovation and expertise gave the authorities confidence that a joint approach could be achieved and could lead to significant benefits.

The next stage was to develop a WYCA Asset Management Framework. This concise document took the knowledge gained through the maturity assessment and established a shared set of policy objectives, aligned to both the WYCA's and the individual authorities' corporate objectives. These objectives fit into an overarching strategy, which makes sure the WYCA can monitor its success.

The Framework breaks the WYCA's asset management implementation into planning and enabling elements, aligned to the HMEP's Guidance. It articulates what each element means, what the WYCA is currently doing in that area, and plans for future improvement.

Each section contains actions; these are then summarised into a suite of quick wins and long-term actions. These evolved into a detailed implementation action plan with resources and responsibilities allocated. This developed into a delivery structure, providing overall direction and governance for progress.

Rewarding efficiency

While the WYCA was delivering its asset management action plan, the government announced the Local Road Incentive Fund. This scheme rewards authorities adopting efficiency principles across asset management, asset resilience, stakeholder engagement, performance management and efficient delivery.

In response, the WYCA and Metis revisited the implementation plan, directing their priorities towards maximising the authorities' Incentive Fund status by:

  • understanding the gaps between their current maturity and the Incentive Fund's maturity criteria, and the action needed to bridge those gaps
  • working together to advance all six highway authorities to the same Incentive Fund status, by building on their individual strengths and expertise.

This exercise helped the six authorities improve their understanding of where experience, skills and good practice existed, and reassured them that by working together, all authorities had something to contribute. No one authority was in the lead; everyone had something to bring to the project.

Finding the time for staff to concentrate on business transformation alongside their day jobs was a challenge. Workloads had to be prioritised (with Chief Officers' support) and resources shared across all six authorities.

The team originally planned 22 task and finish groups to align to the self-assessment evidence, but quickly realised this was unmanageable and that some of the groups' tasks overlapped. A review reduced this to eight thematic areas. The result was more rapid progress towards the set goals, and a better understanding among team members of how the various aspects of asset management interact.

The maturity assessment and the Framework laid the foundations for a collaborative approach to the asset management implementation. The individual authorities are already realising many of these benefits to varying extents. The Framework has allowed them to:

  • scale up to benefit the whole WYCA
  • evolve to align to HMEP recommendations and industry best practice
  • foster innovation.

“…all six authorities are on track to have their Incentive Fund Band 3 status confirmed... This could translate to around another £8 million in reward funding by 2021”

Aligning the maturity assessment and Framework to HMEP recommendations from the start made aligning the associated implementation plan to the Incentive Fund criteria fairly straightforward.

By January 2016, the group had achieved a significant shift in the implementation of asset management across the region – and all six authorities had achieved Incentive Fund Band 2 status.

Unique combination

Continuing collaboration during 2016 and early 2017 has helped the WYCA develop more advanced custom and practice in stakeholder engagement, performance management and collaborative service delivery. This enabled most of the authorities to reach Incentive Fund Band 3 – the top band – and so maximise their grant funding for highway infrastructure maintenance.

Some individual WYCA highway authorities already excelled at lifecycle planning, and already had maintenance strategies that minimised the whole-lifecycle cost of asset ownership. These approaches have been shared and developed within the group.

This project has achieved cost benefits – and is expected to continue to do so – through:

  • joint procurement to develop the WYCA Asset Management Framework – estimated to have saved more than £50,000
  • working together to develop and implement the elements of asset management – estimated to realise savings of up to £700,000 by December 2016 (compared to the cost of each authority proceeding individually).

The WYCA authorities believe their combined approach is unique in the UK. The approach is being discussed among other wellestablished highway authority alliances and the WYCA is sharing the approach with the wider industry.

Although the focus of the collaboration is firmly on efficient and effective highways asset management, the Incentive Fund added an extra financial incentive to implement asset management. This extra incentive also helped the team gain both political buy-in to the implementation plan and the resources to drive the plan forward.

All six authorities achieving Incentive Fund Band 2 in 2016 amounted to an indicated additional £6.9 million in grant funding by 2021.

Five of the six authorities submitted their 2017 Incentive Fund self-assessments at Band 3, and all six authorities are on track to have their Band 3 status confirmed by 2018. This could translate to around another £8 million in reward funding by 2021.

The requirements to meet the government's criteria for incentive funding were validated by independent assessment or internal assessment / audit within each authority. In all cases the Section 151 Officer certified each assessment. The outcomes are available for further validation by the Department for Transport.

The non-financial benefits of the project so far include establishing a template and evidence base that helps other departments within the WYCA to collaborate, and sharing best practice and innovation with other highway authorities and the industry in general.

This includes sharing the lessons learned along the way.

Ensuring early engagement with all stakeholders, especially the officers being asked to implement the plan, gives a project like this the best possible chance of success. Stakeholders must understand the reasons behind the project and the benefits it will potentially deliver. Without this understanding and buy-in, it is too easy for projects to lose momentum and revert back to business as usual.

External support may or may not be needed to help deliver the activity. This will depend on internal expertise and resources. However, an external expert can often help to overcome internal blockages that could otherwise delay implementation.

Teams implementing similar projects should also be prepared to accept constructive criticism and be aware that there is more than one way to deliver a service.

 

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