Q and A with Mathew Lugg: Self-assessment, self-assessed

13/02/2020
Dominic Browne

The Department for Transport’s Incentive Fund self-assessment process came on the scene five years ago and has undergone changing fortunes and differing levels of support ever since. As it comes to the end of its first funding cycle this financial year, and looks set for reform, Dominic Browne speaks to one of its creators about a funding pot that punched above its weight but sometimes lost its balance

A top sliced cash pot is not really supposed to change a sector. It’s a politician’s gift, a press release, a civil servant’s pet project. In highways it often just shores up finance that had bled off into other services anyway. The highways self-assessment process was different.

With a relatively small amount of cash, this funding system accelerated and locked in a culture change that helped staunch the wounds of austerity.

If we had to face up to managed decline, at least it had to be managed well. The sector knew ‘worst first’ was not the way to go, but was not always as quick as it should have been in introducing highways asset management plans.

The self-assessment process took the matter out of officers' hands, then told them to stop the hand wringing and get on with it.   

From resistance to acceptance, to celebration and then to scepticism, the sector has changed its mind several times about the self-assessment concept, which emerged out of the now disbanded Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme.

It was intended to do away with perverse incentives for poor performance and introduce a real financial incentive around asset management.

While highway authorities recoiled at first at the idea of cash strapped councils losing even more money during some of the hardest cuts to local finance ever seen, eventually hard-nosed engineers recognised that it helped them raise standards, not least in securing more cash from politicians.

Then the suspicions began to creep in. Was everyone in Band 3 really a top performing council? Weren’t some places being a bit over generous. When former director of local transport Graham Pendlebury admitted the DfT could not afford to carry out official audits of the returns it seemed the issue was out in the open. 

Highways understands some form of voluntary audit group has been in development but such are the practical barriers involved, it has remained in development.

The mixed emotions about the scheme can be summed up in two responses from senior figures in the sector.

One said: ‘Self-assessment has been really good. It has made people think about it. It’s enabled people to get the resources both people and money to actually make the asset management more efficient. The self-assessment has brought asset management on without a doubt.' 

Another said: ‘There are authorities that say they are Band 3 and can’t back it up with evidence. They are not doing the things they claim and the DfT do nothing with it. They just sign it off.’

Q and A with Matthew Lugg

Matthew Lugg OBE, is head of profession at WSP Local Government. He was on secondment at the DfT just over five years ago and helped write the questionnaire the process was based on.

How did it come about and what impact do you think the self-assessment process has had?

‘The view from HMEP was that despite all the development of all HMEP products there still many local highway authorities that had made limited progress in all the attributes that can drive efficiencies and service improvement, namely asset management, customer engagement, resilience, benchmarking and service improvement, and better procurement.

‘In discussion with DfT, HMEP felt if some of the capital maintenance funding could be incentivised to encourage local highway authorities take on board these attributes then it was more likely that this would happen.

‘I remember at the time there was a lot of opposition but if you ask any senior local authority highway managers now they are very complimentary about the difference that self-assessment has made particularly in achieving political support for better asset management.’  

Have there been any changes to the questions over the years?

No -  it has stood the test of time and it was always felt it would be unfair to move the goalposts part the way through its five-year duration.

What concerns do you have about the lack of audit for the responses?

The whole process lost a lot of credibility at an early stage when all those highway authorities that formed part of combined authorities were excluded from the incentivisation process. This included all the Manchester, Liverpool, Teesside, West Midlands and Bristol Mets probably around 30 councils many of whom were the ones that most needed to improvement.

DfT have been threatening some form of audit for a while which I offered to help them with as inevitably when large sums of Government may be lost as a consequence of not getting into a particular band the local highway authorities will try push the boundaries to protect their budgets.

Do you think the process should have been done any differently looking back?

No, I think it served its purpose as most local highway authorities have achieved Band 3 status and it now needs to be revamped. 

How do you think it should change in the future?

My advice is that before agreeing to provide any additional capital maintenance funding following the spring budget or the comprehensive spending review, DfT should require local authorities to demonstrate what outcomes they will achieve as a consequence.

So unlike the self-assessment process, which relied on evidence of systems and process this new approach will require evidence of achieving tangible outcomes to the highway infrastructure. This also may require some external stewardship.

Will there ever be a future body/new version of HMEP, do you think?

No, not as such. There are lots of proactive regional groups of local highway authorities doing valuable collaborative work it just perhaps lacks some national overview which could be through UKRLG.

Highways jobs

Specialist Refuse Loader

£19,312 - £19,698
Specialist Refuse Loader Stakeford, Choppington
Recruiter: Northumberland County Council

Assistant Director Environment

£95,438
We are looking for a strategic and resilient leader to become our next Assistant Director of Environment here in Doncaster. Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Recruiter: Doncaster Council

Project Engineer – Scarborough or Whitby Area Office

£24,982 to £35,745
We have an exciting Project Engineer opportunity in our Scarborough or Whitby Highways Operational office. Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Recruiter: North Yorkshire County Council

Ice Rink Manager

£29,724 - £32,757
We are looking for a friendly and approachable person to join our management team, who can... Chelmsford, Essex
Recruiter: Chelmsford City Council

Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Officers

£25.137 - £26.520
Following a redesign of the service, we are now looking to appoint a number of exceptional candidates as Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Officers. Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Supervisors

£30.585 - £31.557
Following a redesign of the service, we are now looking to appoint two experienced candidates as Safer Spaces Digital Evidence Supervisors. Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Environment Improvement Officer

£24,982 - £27,041 per annum
For further information on the role please click. Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Assistant Director - Capital Projects, Building Services, Highways and Transport

£77,862 to £93,434 per annum
You will lead a diverse range of services and will be responsible for the delivery of an ambitious and varied Capital Programme of... Darlington, Durham
Recruiter: Darlington Borough Council

Senior Assistant Engineer (Network Management)

£32,234 to £34,728
There are 2 roles available and each role will be pivotal to the Council in delivering statutory duties which fall... Wirral, Merseyside
Recruiter: Wirral Borough Council

Team Leader (Network Development)

£37,890 to £40,876
Wirral is home to vibrant, energetic and engaged communities, people who... Wirral, Merseyside
Recruiter: Wirral Borough Council

Assistant Project Engineer

£27,741 - £29,577 per annum
Do you have a passion for civil engineering and construction? Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Clerk of Works [JE1119]

£30,451 – £34,728
We are looking for a Clerk of Works to join our expanding team, supporting the Senior Engineers to deliver on... Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Recruiter: Milton Keynes Council

CPP Engineer

£19,698 to £35,745
We have developed a career progression pathway with four stages with a well-defined framework for... Cheshire
Recruiter: Wirral Borough Council

Senior HSEQ Advisor

£35,745
An exciting opportunity has arisen to join North Yorkshire County Council's Shared Health and Safety Service to... North Yorkshire
Recruiter: North Yorkshire County Council

Service Change Officer - Street Scene

Competitive Salary
The Service Change Team supports Street Scene in improving and delivering high quality services to... Colindale, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Barnet London Borough Council

Information and Monitoring Officer

£26,025 - £38,616 per annum depending on skills
Would you like a role in shaping the planning policies of Richmond upon Thames and Wandsworth? London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Senior Officer - Parking

£35,745 - £40,876 per annum
As a Senior Parking Officer (Parking Enforcement) you will be responsible for managing parking contracts relating to the issue of... Sandwell, West Midlands
Recruiter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Senior Traffic Engineer

£39,880 - £42,821 per annum
This is an exciting opportunity for someone with excellent experience in Traffic Management and Engineering, or related discipline, to... Pembroke, Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro)
Recruiter: Pembrokeshire County Council

Principal Highway Development Management Officer

£32,910
We seek an enthusiastic and experienced individual to join our small and busy team dealing with all aspects of highway development management. East Riding of Yorkshire
Recruiter: East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Graduate Bridge Engineer

£22,183 to £25,481 per annum
We are happy to consider all applicants at degree level as well as HND (level 5) higher apprentices. Taunton, Somerset
Recruiter: Somerset County Council

Highways Presents

Highways on Fridays

Register now!

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

 

Highways England takes on tunnels

Also inside:

  • Legal analysis: What the Brexit trade agreement means for you
  • Maintenance: The heavy-duty kit making light work
View the latest issue

Latest Video