Stick with roads investment plan to generate jobs, says CIHT head

Sue Percy, CIHT chief executive

Highways England's budget is rumoured by the Financial Times to be a target of cuts.  But commitment to the current £15bn programme is the best way for Government to see the efficiencies and investment in skills it requires to develop the economy, says Sue Percy.

With the creation of Highways England, we should begin to see increased transparency and accountability in the relationship with the Department for Transport and a new Government. This should enable a strong delivery focus on the performance of the network for road users.

"Certainty and continuity of investment over a sustained period is important if overall improvements to the network are to be delivered effectively and efficiently."

The legislation that created Highways England underpins a £15bn programme of road maintenance and enhancements giving our industry the confidence to prepare for project delivery in terms of skills and labour force, equipment and materials. 

Certainty and continuity of investment over a sustained period is important if overall improvements to the network are to be delivered effectively and efficiently. It is now crucial that the next government works with industry to ensure the skills, capacity and capability to deliver this programme of work are available.

Whilst we welcome recognition that Highways England will take the needs of customers into account, further work is needed to ensure that all customer needs are understood and addressed in the new model for operation. That means clarity about how those needs are developed, protected and monitored by a combination of watchdog Transport Focus and the Office of Rail and Road.

Highways England has a significant challenge to identify the skills and capabilities required, including a clearer appreciation of customer requirements and an expanded commercial capability. Highways England must also have greater freedom to allow more innovation and agility in decision making.

Other challenges include:

  • Recognising that success of an improved strategic network cannot be met without the local highway network also being considered as part of a holistic solution
  • Ensuring the consideration of other transport modes in any strategy and importantly the overarching policy for the local highway network
  • Contributing to the needs of customers outside of the strategic road network, to contribute to the wider economic growth agenda being addressed by a range of local stakeholders.
  • Responding to the areas set out in the performance specification contained in the road investment strategy - in particular the focus on safety and the challenging 40% reduction in people killed and seriously injured on the network over a five year period. 

As an industry supporting the employment of over 200,000 people with annual activity worth up to £25bn, we believe that Parliament’s actions on roads will deliver a better deal for motorway and trunk roads users while also securing improved value for taxpayers. CIHT looks forward to working closely with Highways England and establishing a constructive relationship over the next few years.

Sue Percy is the chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation.