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Chapter 18. Administration

Volume 1 Part 7
Brief résumé of Chapter 18:
Administration - Environmental Considerations and Practice

R. Denny MA, DipTS, FIHT, FIMgt, MCIT
formerly Under Secretary, Department of Environment, and Department of Transport
later the Secretary, Tree Council

P. Gerosa, BA (Hons)
formerly Assistant Secretary, Highways Administration, Department of Transport
Ann Frye, BA ( Hons), OBE
Head of The Mobility and Inclusion Unit, Department for Transport

Politics in all their variety provide threads in this backcloth and became woven over the years into a pattern of complex procedure for determining governmental action before substantial opposition which was and still is driven by conviction rather than interest. That complexity rightly reflects perceptions among the people of their welfare, risks to it and opportunities for it, as much as the original idea that Britain would be better off with a motorway system than without one. It had roots too in such organisations as the Roads Beautifying Association.

There were many matters of difficulty in administering the Roads Programme and many outside ideas and experts to accommodate; for example, the skilled members drawn into the ambit of the Landscape Advisory Committee. Another aspect of the Ministry's involvement was public concern to have a safe hard shoulder and reasonable motorway service areas to refresh themselves in making journeys by motorway.

Chapter 18Again, following the emphasis put on the economic impact of motorway building by the Lofthouse Committee Report of 1966, Sir William Harris productively chaired a Committee set up in 1967 through the National Economic Development Office which re-considered the form and effect of the Ministry's contracting procedures in the light of a Public Accounts Committee investigation and Report in 1963 on the building of the M6, and the Reports of 1964 and 1967 of the Committee on the Management and Placement of Contracts for Building and Civil Engineering Works. Sir William's recommendations were that the competitive tendering system should be retained, but the preliminary site and route investigation phase should include far more detailed work on the subsoil, and that data once established should be subsequently shared with contractors as part of the contractual documentation. Sir William was also instrumental in changing the "Works" phase of contracts covering earthworks, with the introduction of "Method Specification" rather than "end result specification". Later in 1967 he introduced the Road Construction Units - an innovation reversed like much else from the first phase of motorway building after 1982-84.

 

 

The role of administration in the context of motorways

This chapter will begin with a thumb nail sketch of the activities which administration in relation to the motorways comprises. Administration is the activity of getting it right, from the first thought to delivery of the final product, whatever may be the skills required to produce it. Unlike management it includes the doing as well as the deciding what to tell others to do.

It is fundamental to understanding the task of administration in creating and operating Britain's motorway system that the motorways have been built and maintained almost entirely at the expense of the Exchequer.

Administration has had to perform the function of arranging for policy decision on an informed basis. Where such decision entails legislation the task of administration includes instructing the draftsman. If it is subordinate legislation the lawyers to be instructed will be the Department's own outposted staff of the Treasury Solicitor; if it is primary legislation administration instructs these same lawyers who then instruct Parliamentary Counsel. Administration will have had to brief Ministers to take the legislation through Parliament. With the policy and the powers in place, administration will have had to engage professional and other expert input into planning. In the case of motorways the main professions to be involved in planning are those of surveyors, civil engineers and economists, together with advice on environmental implications. Those implications may prove to be overriding.

Administration must arrange for lawyers to embody the plans in draft instruments for public consultation. Consultation may lead on to Public Inquiry, to the appointment of an independent Inspector and to the organisation of full facilities for any objector to present representations. Administration must then secure the Minister's decision, which will be quasi-judicial.

It will then engage the lawyers both in preparing the definitive instrument which will provide the legal authority to proceed with construction accordingly, together with any compulsory purchase order needed to acquire the land on which construction so authorised will take place.

Beyond planning, administration must engage civil engineers in design, focusing on value for money. Administration must seek to secure that research and development which will support achievement of value for money. Administration must then arrange for the requirements of the design to be incorporated by the lawyers in invitations to tender, decide how many and who are to be invited, issue the invitations, examine the bids which are returned and choose the one to be awarded the contract - a process overlaid by the history of Parliamentary criticism of contracts in many fields of government business, including defence, which proved inadequately to reflect or to discipline eventual cost. The warnings in that history have to be sufficiently observed in a common form of contract which in the case of motorways was for some years based upon a form recommended in the interests of fair play to the profession and its clients by the Institution of Civil Engineers. Later the Department developed its own form of contract designed to restrict the scope for claims beyond the contract price. The industry regarded this change as burdensome. Once more the Department's lawyers have to be involved to provide assurance that the form of contract provides effective direction and discipline upon both parties. Even so, administration risks frustrating Government policy towards motorways if it disregards the other risk that the sequence of contracts let might not be optimal for the efficiency of the industry which is the instrument of the policy's product.

The authors of this chapter write:

"Not all changes in contracting practice have been in the direction of more specific requirements. One example would be development of the practice of sharing important data, once established, with contractors as part of the contractual documentation; another would be substitution, attributed to Sir William Harris, of "Method Specification" for "End Result Specification" in relation to earthworks.

Because the circumstances in which the contract will be executed on the ground are rarely fully predictable there has to be provision for some measure of discretion to be exercised by the contractor with the approval of the engineer engaged in overseeing the work on the Department's behalf. Even so, administration, involving its civil engineers and its lawyers again, may in due course have to decide upon the merits of any claims made under the contract.

The contracting process has to be repeated in rather different form to execute maintenance of the motorways. In contrast with implementation of plans for construction, a process of assessing or measuring the emergence of need for maintenance on motorways has to be conducted by the Department's engineers. This has been a field in which remarkable technological advance had been made to facilitate that process by swift and sensitive measurement, greatly relieving administration's responsibility for assessment.

A universal reason why administration is involved in all these stages is that every one of them affects the aggregate call upon the Exchequer which the policy entails. Administration itself is divided on this account to provide an expert group of administrative staff within the Department who keep the tally of its actual and potential financial commitments both to control their total at any time and to conduct the necessary negotiations with the Treasury to obtain the best reconciliation between pursuit of the Department's policies, including those for the motorway system, and the requirements of the economy as a whole as the Government of the day interprets them. The staff engaged in the placing of contracts and in the administration of their terms form part of this expert group.

The foregoing paragraphs reflect the way that administration both sparks and permeates the processes by which motorway policy has been conceived and implemented. The upshot is the substance of "The Motorway Achievement" and it is therefore only to be expected that administration is an aspect of many chapters of this series of Volumes. To avoid duplication this chapter must proceed largely by referring to them while confining itself to exploring the underlying reasons why such arrangements took the form that they did and to filling out their form and significance where other chapters have not needed to do so.

Laying a framework for the motorway programme

Chapter 1 of this Volume has picked out the main events in Britain's gradual conversion to the idea of acquiring a motorway system as other countries had been doing. Maps of proposed motorway networks had been published by the Institution of Highway Engineers in 1936 and on a more practical scale by the AA in 1937 and the County Surveyors' Society in 1938; and thought along these lines had continued under the Ministry of War Transport, culminating in their own map issued on 6th May 1946. Particular counties had been doing the same, notably Lancashire led in this connection by their Bridgemaster and County Surveyor, James Drake, who would complete his Road Plan for Lancashire in 1949. The post-War Ministry of Transport under its first Minister, the Rt Hon. Alfred Barnes, was led to expect to initiate a substantial programme of expenditure on maintenance of the roads, neglected as this service had had to be during the War, and on new construction. While the legislation which eventually reached the Statute Book as the Special Roads Act, 1949, was being prepared, the Ministry devoted intense effort, to the accompaniment of external bodies' advocacy and in consultation with local authorities, to determining sensible routes to be included in a national motorway system.

The Department's organisation of this essential analytical groundwork centrally and in its regional offices is described in chapter 13 of this volume, involving as it did both a developing structure for highway and bridge engineering and, from 1952, an administrative Development and General Planning Division. These Divisions produced proposals in sufficiently specific form for invitations to tender to be issued when at last both the powers and the finance were available to make a start on construction in 1956. This work is recorded in numerous files now available to the public in the MT117, MT121 and MT123 series deposited in the Public Record Office. The character of it is exemplified in the work of the Special Roads Division set up in 1958 and operated with minor changes until 1968. MT121/1 sets out the first phase of the planned programme of motorway building as seen in 1958-1960. The later development of it to, is drawn largely from MT121/298 - "Proposals which subject to economic assessment could be included in the 2nd stage Motorway programme". This was written for the Minister of Transport, the Rt Hon. Ernest Marples, in 1963.

"Administration is always involved in getting things done. Things to be done may be gathering the facts, analysing them and so providing the base for policy decisions, which should defer to opportunity cost. For the powers to implement the policy, with lawyers' services, the form of any legislation required has to be determined and, if it does not already exist in the required form, presented to Parliament to consider enacting it. Gathering the facts may include consultations which elicit opinions or insights which in turn require assessment of the weight to be attached to them in approaching decisions. The public has to be kept informed both about opportunities to express their interests and their views and about decisions and the reasons for them. The needs for professional skills at different levels, arranged to provide economically the requisite quality and ranges of experience, have had to recognised, provided and maintained in the offices and in the field. The finance has had to be obtained, reconciling how much it is reasonable to expect to be provided with what is actually provided in the event and with what it is desirable and feasible to do by spending it. The use to which most of it will be put has to be duly authorised within a transparent system of public accountability, requiring anything spent outside the Department to be spent within the terms of contracts, all placed to advance the implementation of decided policy. Such activity has been involved in deciding upon the policy of creating and operating a motorway system. But it is no different in principle from the activity entailed in the act of governing people.

The history of Britain's motorway system spans a period when all these functions were discharged by people on public payrolls and the further functions of construction and maintenance in the field were discharged by contractors; and another period when, by political choice made in 1981, more of the former have been placed with contractors. Either way coherence and economy in the total effort has to be delivered. That is the irreducible function of administration, which may be well or poorly done.

The task requires many minds and many hands. They have to work in mutual understanding of their respective required contributions, distributed in the pyramid of decisions so that each element is undertaken by a person versed in the discipline and knowledge base which the particular aspect of the subject requires if it is to be competently and responsibly discharged. Mutual understanding will not of itself ensure agreement or coherence between the contributions which each person in this structure may desire to make for reasons within his or her discipline. Disagreement is not only a possible reality it also entails frictional cost. The influence which ensures coherence is the community of understanding of the single purpose of the whole effort, determined ultimately by the constitutional process of Parliamentary democracy and made feasible by the system of taxation which that system has generated. That community of understanding depends on leadership exercised in conformity with constitutionally accepted political direction."