2017 conference highlights

Road Expo Scotland 2017 conference summary

Road Expo Scotland 2017 saw top officials in the sector give exclusive briefings on issues including intelligent transport systems (ITS), major trunk road procurement, collaboration in the face of funding cuts and disruptive future technology.

Delegates witnessed the launch of Transport Scotland’s ITS strategy, with transport minister Humza Yousaf giving a video presentation to commend the document and advise on next steps.

Hugh Gillies, director of trunk road and bus operations at Transport Scotland, also provided insights into the ITS strategy’s formation, including workings with private sector partner Jacobs and discussions with major companies like Tesla.

The conference gave delegates the chance to find out more about how Transport Scotland is gearing up to procure its fifth generation trunk roads contracts next year.

Mr Gillies said: ‘Are roads serving the nation as they could do, do they look and feel right? It’s difficult to quantify that [in a contract]. I think that’s where we need discussions with the contractors about how we are going to set up a fair and equitable metric that would allow them to recognise the look and feel aspect or the customer care aspect is something they can deliver against and something they can be judged against.’

As usual, Road Expo provided key insights from those running the local, as well as the national, networks.

Gordon Mackay, chairman Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (SCOTS), gave an update on the local authority landscape, addressing delegates with some worrying financial figures.

He cited projections at Inverclyde Council as indicative of the wider financial situation, which suggest the authority is facing a 76% cut in non-protected services over five years.

In such circumstances there is ‘a real risk of critical infrastructure failure’ Mr Mackay said, as he questioned how authorities would be able to fulfil statutory duties.

One of the key themes at the conference was how collaboration could help support councils in this fight.

Ewan Wallace, head of transportation at Aberdeenshire Council – part of the group of northern councils collaborating in Scotland – gave delegates advice on how to get authorities to work together and Stewart Turner, head of roads at Ayrshire Roads Alliance, a joining of East and South Ayrshire councils into a single roads service, outlined some of the prizes on offer when it comes to combining efforts.

Mr Turner said the alliance expects to make £8m in savings over 10 years on top of budget cuts, with savings of £2.5m coming from trimmed management and £1.5m from fleets.

Another useful tool for local authorities was outlined by Raymond Smith, roads manager at Falkirk Council, who discussed work to establish cost benchmarking for different elements of the roads sector in Scotland.

Using data sets from SCOTS and the Association for Public Service Excellence, the research favoured using median averages in areas such as treatment rates to establish ‘baseline unit costs’ (BUCs).

Elsewhere, Craig Morton, research fellow at the University of Leeds, discussed his interesting analysis of Low Emissions Zones from a social perspective in terms of access issues, taking Edinburgh’s plans as a test case.

Stuart Wilson of Transport Scotland talked about the future of road safety delivery and revealed: ‘We are moving to a safe systems approach. When we upgrade we look at safety and maintenance.’ And Mel Clarke, customer service director at Highways England, gave a warm and insightful talk into modern relationships with road users.

Closing the conference, John Welsh, senior development manager at Dynniq gave delegates an insight into the road ahead and the future of innovation in the sector. ‘The thinking that got us here, will not get us there,’ he warned.

Once again, Road Expo was first for news and provided in-depth analysis from those at the heart of a sector refusing to stand still.