Vemco Consulting has secured a short-term contract with the Office of Rail Regulation to help establish its new function of Strategic Road Network Monitor.
To many, it may seem odd that the ORR (whose primary role up until now has been in rail) is being asked to carry out this function but, in fact, there is no organisation better experienced to undertake the role. Let me take you through a little bit of the history:
Back in July 2013, the Government published a paper setting out its plans to change the way strategic roads (i.e. motorways and trunk roads) are funded and managed. This included plans to trans-form the Highways Agency into a Government-owned company (sometimes referred to as GoCo). It will be known as the Strategic Highways Company (SHC).
This move will be underpinned by legislation and is expected to improve efficiency, with taxpayers expected to benefit from savings of at least £2.6 billion over the next 10 years.
The main aims of the changes are to:
- give the new Strategic Highways Company (SHC) freedom to manage the day-to-day operation of the roads;
- provide greater certainty and flexibility of funding to allow the SHC and its supply chain to plan ahead and deliver more efficiently; and
- improve accountability and transparency for road users and the wider public about what the SHC is delivering and how it is performing.
The Department for Transport (DfT) will act as the Government’s sponsoring department for the new SHC.
This year, the DfT announced plans to establish a new cost and efficiency monitoring function for England’s strategic road network. As a result, the SHC will be monitored in a very similar way to rail. This is where the ORR come in with their extensive experience of monitoring the rail network.
The Strategic Road Network Monitor (SRNM) will become a new function of the ORR and will scrutinise the cost and efficiency of the newly created SHC. The aim of this role is to help drive value for money and performance for taxpayers/road users.
The SRNM will operate and be funded as a separate function within the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and will consist of its own team of staff dedicated to working on roads issues.
It is anticipated that the new SHC will be “born” at the beginning of April 2015 and, along with it, the new Monitor role of the ORR. These “non-identical twins” – the ying and yang of the road industry – will, no doubt, enjoy a relationship with some healthy tensions. Nevertheless, I am convinced that they will ultimately demonstrate how contrary forces can be complementary.
This is a truly exciting period in history of roads. Only time will tell what real benefits the legislative changes will deliver, but anticipation is certainly running high.