The CQC Efficiency Network – Helping Local Authorities understand the performance gap and learn from best practice

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By Dr Phill Wheat

Since the start of the financial crisis, Local Authorities in Britain have been under pressure to do more with less. This has been particularly challenging for highway departments as over the same time period public satisfaction with roads has been falling.

To incentivise authorities to determine and adopt best practice, there have been two key ‘carrot and stick’ initiatives at the national level. Firstly, the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) is ‘by the highways sector, for the highways sector’ and aims to “[work] with people and organisations to enable change, so that greater savings and efficiencies can be achieved and the demand for improved roads and services can be met”. HMEP has supported a number of initiatives (including pilot work on this analysis) to help authorities meet the challenge that they face. Secondly, the Department for Transport is moving to make a proportion of highways funding conditional on demonstration of achievement of several performance related processes and outcomes.

The CQC Efficiency Network Offering

The CQC Efficiency Network (Cost, Quality, Customer) is an offering to local authorities throughout Britain to enable them to quantify the scope for cost savings in delivery of highway services and to identify what ‘peer’ authorities are relevant to each participant so that they can learn better practices. Importantly the analysis recognises the important interplay between the Cost of work done, the Quality of the work and the Customer perception of the highway service (CQC – Cost, Quality, Customer). These considerations are embedded within the identified potential cost savings and this is important because we are trying to avoid a ‘race to lowest quality’ in our measure.

This analysis will be supported by a set of case studies and working groups which will enable authorities understand how they can realise the potential cost savings identified in the analysis. Participation in the Network is recognised within the DfT’s highway incentive process as contributing to fulfilment of several criteria for enhanced funding. As of 10/09/15, the Network has 55 participating authorities. These include a mixture of County and Unitary Authorities as well as London Boroughs.

Exciting opportunities for Leeds

The CQC Efficiency Network is joint venture between the National Highways & Transport Network (NHT) and the University of Leeds. Both partners worked successfully together in two pilot studies of this approach funded by HMEP.

The network is an exciting opportunity for Leeds. It provides opportunities for us to apply our cost and efficiency analysis experience, developed primarily in the rail sector, to the local highways sector. Further, the current policy direction will ensure that the work will have real impact and value to stakeholders. Key to success will be clear communication of our approach, including the benefits of the specific statistical approach over more simplistic approaches, but also being up front about the limitations of the approach and indeed any other benchmarking approaches. Critical to this will be working with our NHT partners and the participants so that we can build a support framework around the statistical benchmarking work which allows authorities to translate ‘the numbers’ into real ‘on the ground’ actions.

The CQC Efficiency Network will also underpin new research in cost and efficiency analysis at Leeds. The work raises several methodological questions such as:

  • How should public satisfaction data be used in cost benchmarking given its subjective nature?
  • How can we deal with backlogs in investment in assets when measuring efficiency?

To support these important impact and research developments, Leeds is currently recruiting a Research Fellow in Efficiency Analysis. This represents a major investment in the capacity of the group at Leeds and will ensure that this venture will yield world leading research and create real impact and value for participating authorities and the public.

For more information please contact:

Dr. Phill Wheat

New Book on Sustainable Transportation

A post to fanfare the arrival of a new book on Sustainable Transportation. The book is the fruit of six years work with Henrik Gudmundsson (DTU Denmark), Ralph Hall and Joe Zietsman (Texas TTI). The book, Sustainable Transportation: Indicators Frameworks and Performance Management , is written for students, academics and practitioners interested in how to make transportation more sustainable.

The book begins by providing a rich account of sustainable development, transportation’s contribution (positive and negative) to those goals and what is meant and intended in various interpretations of “sustainable transportation”. Whilst this part of the book reflects the state of art it is grounded in principles which can be explored and developed in a range of contexts. The book, as the title suggests then goes on to explore the importance of information in decision-support around sustainable transportation.

It is in the use of information to support decisions or challenge progress within and across agencies that the challenges of actually delivering more sustainable transportation are actually played out however and the book therefore turns to the governance of transportation, how transportation relates to other important policy sectors and the use, mis-use and non-use of information in taking decisions which affect the sustainability of transportation. The book is a key resource in how information can and should be used and how it can all be put together to provide a holistic sustainability perspective whatever the scale and remit of an organisation. It is a toolkit for how to work through the challenges rather than an off the shelf solution. We argue very strongly that context is so important to what information is available and what is important that, whilst common information needs exist, a one size fits all approach will not unlock the progress needed.

The second part of the book takes four case studies and reflects on the state of art in sustainability decision-making in transportation set against the framework and definitions we provide in the book. Here a critical academic analysis, presented in terms which practitioners can understand, unfolds of:

  • A large scale strategic planning exercise (the EU Transport White Paper)
  • A sustainability appraisal of a major infrastructure proposal (UK High Speed Rail)
  • A green ratings tool for a state highways agency applied in a variety of contexts (New York State’s GREENLITES programme)
  • A city based benchmarking and environmental improvement programme (Japan)

The case studies reveal the potential for sustainability appraisal tools to allow organisations to prioritise interventions and make improvements in areas where they have control but they also reveal challenges which result from the position they adopt in decision-making processes (e.g. mitigation rather than prioritisation) and in demonstrating tangible outcomes over short political time-scales.

The book concludes with a debate about the shape and scale of the challenges facing the sustainable transportation delivery agenda. That debate will continue and we look forward to hearing your thoughts. We will shortly be launching a website for supporting materials so keep an eye out @drgregmarsden or @RalphPHall for more details.

Sustainable Transportation: Indicators Frameworks and Performance Management is available via