14th October 2020 | Innovation | Collaboration

Sharing best practice

LCRIG content director Alec Peachey carries out regular interviews with members to highlight the work they’re doing and the types of technologies that are driving innovation forward. This week, Matthew Lugg OBE – head of profession, local government at WSP – talks about the best ways to adopt innovation at a local level and the work being done by the sector to share best practice.   


Q. What is the best way to try innovations on a huge customer base?

A. “I don’t think we should be trying innovations on a huge customer base due to the implications if something went wrong and its affect on a large number of the community plus the resulting reputational damage. The way to try out new products and test new ways of working is through controlled trials. The Department for Transport (DfT) sponsored SMART Places Live Labs supported by ADEPT is an excellent example how the government is supporting innovation by removing some of the financial risk and ensuring wide dissemination. This £22.9million programme which WSP are supporting will see eight local authority led projects develop and test prototypes and applications across SMART materials, communications, energy and mobility. All too often local highway authorities trial products individually and don’t share their findings so often you end with multiple repetitive trials which is very inefficient and frustrating for providers. One of the benefits of an organisation like LCRIG is to help disseminate information on local authority trials and avoid this problem.”


Q. As a consultancy business, what are some of the main challenges you face when it comes to engaging with the wider sector?

A. “WSP as the market leader in local government in highway engineering consultancy services recognises the importance of engaging with the wider sector not just in the UK but internationally. We are corporate partners of CIHT, ADEPT and ACE. Rachel Skinner, WSP’s executive director is about to become ICE President plus another of our associate directors Stephen Webb is the current IHE president. It is essential for our business that we engage and support all these organisations so we can play our part in representing the sector, have influence and ensure we keep our clients up to date.” 


Q. What cutting edge technologies are you most excited about?

A. “The adoption of digital manufacturing technologies has the potential to transform construction productivity and to consistently deliver low carbon, sustainable and better-quality outputs and outcomes. With efficiencies estimated to be worth £7-15bn per annum. Digital manufacturing technologies as well as improving design, production selection and manufacturing and construction processes to deliver built assets, it is predicted to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases.” 


Q. In what ways does the sector need to evolve?

A. “There needs to be a more consistent model of local government as we currently have in England – county councils, unitary councils, metropolitan councils, London boroughs and district councils. I support the benefits of greater devolution as long as we have a more consistent approach to the size of unitary councils in that they are optimised to ensure they can effectively manage their services.”  


Q. Can regulation be a barrier to innovation?

A. “Yes, for instance European procurement rules often inhibit the ability for innovation due to the lack of flexibility and often short durations particularly for framework contracts. There is an opportunity with Brexit to explore how new forms of contract can provide greater incentives for innovation.”


Q. In what ways can the industry work better with local authorities and should there be a greater sharing of knowledge?

A. “The recently constituted Highways Sector Council brings together a range of key stakeholders including representatives from highway contractors, consultants, the public sector through ADEPT, DfT and CIHT. This body is becoming increasing influential in providing a forum for negotiating a sector deal for highways with Government as well as it helping produce guidance for Government during the pandemic. LCRIG also has a part to play with its increasing network of providers and local highway authorities in sharing good practice.”


Q. Should more designated funding be allocated for local roads and what role can innovation play in ensuring money is spent effectively?

A. “I have always championed the need for more investment in the local roads network recognising its importance both economically and socially. During my CIHT Presidential year I led the review into improving local highways which was influential in helping make the case for the £2.5bn (50 per cent increase) of local roads maintenance funding over the next five years announced by the chancellor in the Spring budget. As this is, in theory, the final year of the DfT self-assessment incentivisation funding process I have been advocating a move to a more outcome based approach to incentivisation which will be less prescriptive and lead to greater innovation.”