Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 88 - 99)




  88. Good afternoon gentlemen, may I welcome you most warmly and ask you to identify yourselves?
  (Mr Foster) My name is Paul Foster. I am here representing the Public and Commercial Services Union in the Highways Agency.
  (Mr Clempson) Good afternoon, my name is Dave Clempson and I am representing the Maritime and Coastguard Agency trade union side.

  89. Do you have anything you wish to say as an opening remark or will you be quite happy to go straight to questions?
  (Mr Foster) Happy to go to questions.

  90. I am sure you understand that where you agree with one another but there is an overlap perhaps you would be kind enough to restrict one spokesman to the job. If you have any difficulties, perhaps you would tell us. How many additional staff were originally thought to be needed to allow the Highways Agency to meet the requirements of A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England?
  (Mr Foster) We were informed in September 1999 that 100 additional staff would be required.

  91. Why was the Agency unable to recruit enough additional staff?
  (Mr Foster) You would probably have to ask them. We have certain suspicions.

  92. Unfortunately for you, I am asking you.
  (Mr Foster) Yes, I know. Sorry, Chairman. We believe it was because we had problems with retention of existing staff because of pay differentials between ourselves and the main departments, particularly in London, also because we believe that there was an underestimation of the time required to recruit staff, many of whom were professional staff and the process took some six months from determining what was needed to actually filling the posts.

  93. Have they now overcome that?
  (Mr Foster) The complement has been reached but mainly through a combination of consultants and casual staff.

  94. Would you expect that to continue?
  (Mr Foster) There have been some complications because we are now looking to reduce numbers in central London, which means there is actually a freeze on filling posts in London and they are seeking to move posts from London to our offices elsewhere in the country.

  95. But you do talk about "widespread alarm and confusion". What evidence is there that staff are under increased stress?
  (Mr Foster) Many staff were led to believe that vacancies in their teams would be filled by fulltime civil servants. In fact what has happened is that a number of these posts have not been filled at all or there has been a high turnover of casual staff who come in for a period of one or two months and then leave and are then replaced by other casual staff. This has put an increased burden on existing staff in having to train these people up and train their successors.

  96. So you actually think it is having an adverse effect on the work.
  (Mr Foster) Yes, and the morale of the staff.

Mr Bennett

  97. They are moving over to design and build, are they not, rather than the Agency doing a lot of the design work and putting it out to contract? Does that have any impact at all on the staffing implications?
  (Mr Foster) For several years we have done no in-house design actually. There has been design and build and it has all been put out to the private sector for a number of years now.

  98. How far does the Agency still have people who really have the expertise to check up as to whether the design is as good in road safety terms as it should be?
  (Mr Foster) We have substantial numbers of staff who are still chartered engineers who have been there for many years, either working within the Agency, previously the Department of Transport, or local authorities. There is a lot of expertise still within the Agency.

  99. The move to design and build has not really affected the staff at all.
  (Mr Foster) There has been a reduction in numbers, but it has not been major.

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