Helping councils improve highway maintenance

Dr Phill Wheat from the Institute for Transport Studies is helping local councils to improve highway maintenance. 

By investing in the performance benchmarking statistical tool developed at Leeds, councils are able to drive down costs while maintaining quality and improving customer satisfaction.

Together with performance and benchmarking company measure2improve (m2i), Dr Wheat set up the Cost Quality and Customer (CQC) Efficiency Network. They found that the 92 participating local authorities in 2018/19 made savings of £106.5million a year, compared to what they would have costed had they still been using practices from 2013/14.  

Dr Wheat said: “We have developed a tool that provides local authorities with a single reliable measure of performance that allows them to see where they stand in terms of cost, quality and customer perception.”

In developing the tool, Dr Wheat drew on the work he had done for the Office of Rail and Road where he found a 37% efficiency gap in relation to rail infrastructure costs and operations, when compared with international best practice.

This resulted in annual efficiency targets being set for Network Rail which constrained Network rail to reduce costs from £18.2 billion to £15.8 billion over five years. The technique was subsequently adopted by the water and sewerage regulator Ofwat. 

To enable a collaborative approach to the highway maintenance benchmarking tool, there was a need to build a network of trust between different councils. The CQC Efficiency Network is a forum where best practice is shared, yet confidentiality is respected. In order to make the network effective, Dr Wheat and representatives from m2i ran workshops across the country to explain the benefit of the tool. 

The flourishing relationship with m2i and the growth of the network has led to the creation of two roles: a postgraduate researcher at the University and a Network Account Manager at m2i. This exemplifies that working in partnership with the University can lead to business growth and that collaborative projects which are funded initially, can become self-sustaining over time.

The Department of Transport is now advising local authorities to carry our robust benchmarking audits against best practice to identify any gaps in performance. “It’s a measure of our success that the Department of Transport actually cites the CQC Efficiency Network as an exemplary model to use,” said Dr Wheat. 

The Cost Quality and Customer Efficiency Network was made possible by funding from the EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA). This funding maximises the contribution that engineering and physical science research makes towards new innovation and successful business in the UK. 

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