Purpose and learning
In 1984 I took over a Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) of 200 highways workers in central London, inside a two year period we added 45% to our income with no extra people employed, while charging 14% less for our products as a whole, moving a three year loss into profits.
Leap forward nearly 20 years, another inner London borough was paying out over £3/4 M a year for ‘trips and falls’ claims, which was increasing by more than 20% per annum. We talked with the unions, asking whether they want to retain custom and practice, with a likely £1M+ lost to them as budget, or try new ways of working? The outcome was an eight-fold increase in pot-holes fixed per day, via an inspector, a semi-conventional two man team and linked lone worker using a proprietary mix which cost a lot per bag, but was extremely easy to use. The amount of new claims started to immediately reduce, (we targeted what to fix at first via claims awareness, then by type of location), the roads got better, the claims reduced, more work was available for the workers to do.
In a Metropolitan Borough a couple of years later, they were ‘reducing costs’ of employees to save money, we were able to show that as a direct result of removing a ‘NRSWA Inspector’, (New Roads and Street Works Act), that roads were being dug up and left open longer, and that repairs were taking longer and then falling apart quicker. After some unrelated headway on other issues, we were ‘trusted’ to appoint an agency inspector whose long term employment was simple, ‘achieve more fine income than your costs, and you stay on’. That inspector was able to record and achieve fines in excess of three times his cost, not by being ‘Attila the Hun’, but by forming working partnerships with the utilities companies, so they could learn from their mistakes. We demonstrated that over 55% of ‘trips and falls’ defects had started from a utility trench, thus our NRSWA funded post was also preventing future pothole costs, and increasing parking income.
In a County we were able to bring several strands together, the NRSWA control was thought to be fairly good until I showed that £6,000 worth of fines could be achieved from a three hour walk, their elaborate dashboard systems showed what they needed to do, and gave percentages of all sorts of stuff, but they had no idea what caused trips and falls. They realised from our ‘root cause analysis’ that many of these defects were due to the way they designed their work. Then our review of section 58 of the highways act, (S58 = Trips and Falls), showed that 21 people were involved in processing the first part of a claim, and that took them on average 90 days to complete a report. Our review enabled that to reduce to 2.65 days, with only 3 people involved reducing the costs from over £300,000 a year to under £67,000.
Bringing this all together in one place was a delight, being able to repair quickly, understanding that some types of road construction fail differently to others, that a skim of asphalt over crushed stone (the way that rural roads and older estate roads used to be built) will fall apart very quickly once the asphalt cracks, that laying asphalt in heavy rain reduces the life-cycle of the road by more than 50%, (see the A43 near Silverstone as an example), that a 4 ½ “ (110mm) kerb-face encourages drivers to park on footways, leading to immediate damage to new footways, that narrow lanes on carriageways, (perhaps created by white lining a cycle lane) makes HGV’s travel along a single line, quickly rutting a road, that regular inspections of roads and footways fully compliant with legislation is cheaper than cutting corners, that working in partnership (from a position of strength) with utilities leads to repairs that don’t fall apart in less than a couple of years.
If you create great information from arrays of disparate data, if you can share that information with the people that need it, and you create a good understanding of how this all inter-relates, then it is possible to improve repair rates, reduce the time from defect to repair, understand the relationship between prevent and repair, know where to deploy people for the most benefit, learn to become proactive rather than reactive, going to places where damage may have started as a result of flooding or ice, prior to getting complaints.
The old world reaction could be: Pot-hole starts to form, damage to first car, then the next three, gets reported, damage to the next ten, gets inspected, then gets repaired. The costs? 14 damaged cars, the council will probably need to pay for ten of these, then the costs of repairs, admin, legal defences ++. Or, Pot-hole starts to form and either has been seen from an inspection and is repaired before it becomes serious, or neighbourhood volunteer reports it and its repaired the next day. With the right information systems a typical repair time can reduce from three weeks to three hours. The result of that? No claims, no call centre details, no legal costs to defend….One single serious injury leads to average compensation payments of £40,000…. Are a few of those a year cheaper than repairing before a claim occurs? (Many seriously injured people are quite old or frail; some are sole carers for their partners. Highways issues are frequently the lever point that causes long term social care support!)
The two causal loops show the opposites of reducing costs to save money, versus inspect and create information. The first ‘saves £60,000 a year’ and then leads to millions of extra costs each year, with secondary issues and an increasing demand on social care.
The second needs an extra inspector to properly review assets and manage adopted highways; this improves highways, reduces claims and leads to an improved quality of life, in real terms saving well in excess of £1/2M a year in a well-run council.
A far more detailed ‘white paper’ on Rethinking Highways Management is near complete, please request this from Daveg@supportservicesdirect.co.uk
NOTE Visualising Transformation is a way of working that maximises the information to all people within the system, so as to be useful for their purposes. Enabling people to see what is happening and have knowledge as to how to use that information is at the heart of Lean and Systems Thinking.
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