MCA Management Awards 2007: Change management

Winner, and Best Public Sector Project award winner: PA Consulting Group with the Highways Agency.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Road congestion is a pain in the backside, and not just for drivers. The worse the congestion, the greater the number of accidents, breakdowns and other incidents. Yet the resources to deal with them - mostly by the police - have fallen as Government diverts resources into fighting crime.

That was the conundrum facing the Highways Agency (HA), which manages England's 5,000 miles of motorways and trunk roads, carrying a third of all road traffic and two-thirds of all freight. A series of incidents, such as 'White Friday', when snow closed the M11 in 2003, had led some observers to question whether the HA could cope.

PA Consulting was asked to review the respective roles and responsibilities of the HA and the police in supporting the road network. The firm began with a number of workshops for front-line police officers, highways engineers and contractors, inviting them to talk through their problems.

The big idea that emerged was a transfer of key roles and responsibilities from police to HA. The latter would set up a 'traffic officer service' to deal with minor incidents and traffic management. Police and highways staff would jointly manage the network through seven dedicated control centres.

PA approached the HA board and the council of the Association of Chief Police Officers for approval and resources. HA's chief executive was asked to make a presentation to the prime minister. Tony Blair gave the proposals his blessing, and PA and HA had just nine months to set up a pilot scheme in the West Midlands.

The seven regional control centres have now been built and staffed, the technology installed and police functions migrated - all inside two years. Some 1,200 traffic officers and 300 control-room staff have been hired and trained. The main challenge was the cultural change required to turn the HA - a civil engineering organisation - into a 24/7 customer-facing body. Traffic officers are now generally first on the scene of a breakdown or accident, sometimes intervening to save lives.

Incident-related congestion is down 2% in the West Midlands and 3% in the South-east, putting HA on track to realise benefits worth £100m a year. Traffic police, freed up to focus more on crime, are now making many more arrests on the network.


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PA groomed the Highways Agency to assume responsibilities for handling minor incidents on England's main-road network. Incident-related congestion is down by 3% in the South-east.

- Invite stakeholders to talk through their issues - it clears the air of scepticism and secures support from the front line.

- Be pragmatic - understand everyday problems and build consensus on the way forward.

- Communicate the transition through simple means.

- Specify goals - have one team focused on delivering the new organisation and a second focused on managing the change.

Public Sector Project award sponsored by Oracle.

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