Chairman’s update – stay positive, stay optimistic, stay focussed

14.30 | 4 January 2011 | | 3 comments

 Happy New Year to you all. I hope you had a great break and have returned refreshed and ready for action. 

We will all need to be prepared for action as 2011 may prove to be very difficult for us.  We are facing difficult times, perhaps unprecedented in local government, but we should remind ourselves continually that there must be a light at the end of the tunnel. That light may be a long way off, but I am sure that there is a light, and we must try to focus on it.  

Staying positive, optimistic, and focussed in these very uncertain times may be very difficult! Budgets are being cut, jobs are being lost, and services are being slimmed down, or even withdrawn altogether.

There is a fear that all of the work we have done in our local authority areas will be completely undone, and that in the not too distant future, road casualties will begin to rise. The productive results of our great efforts, of which we are rightly proud, may very well be undone if we do not embrace the changes that are happening, and adapt to new ways of working to ensure we can continue to deliver a quality service in the future. 

People are our greatest resource
We cannot carry out quality work without appropriate resources.  We need to be assured that we can continue to develop our area of work and our profession, and it is my intention to continue to work as hard as I possibly can to get those assurances.  Yes, we need finance, yes we need excellent quality interventions and systems, and we also need appropriate technology, but above all else, we need people.  People will always be our greatest resource.

In local government, the phrase ‘People are our greatest resource’ is very relevant. Communities rely on people who can provide effective and co-ordinated governance. Our communities need to be reassured that we can provide a safe and healthy environment which improves the quality of their lives.

As the outcomes of the Spending Review make their impact, and public services are threatened further, road safety delivery will need to stand up to rigorous testing. It will be vital that our bids for funding, wherever they are made, are fully supported by evidence.  We need to ensure that our activities are data led, justifiable, affordable, and able to bring about improvements to quality of life and overall well-being. 

 To a certain extent we can lose our ability to broadcast vital road safety messages through media campaigns, we can rationalise our work in schools and colleges, we can possibly find other technological ways to deal with casualties amongst our vulnerable road user groups – but we cannot afford to lose the expertise, the experience, the vast knowledge and the great enthusiasm that we have in our people in the road safety profession.  Without the right people, development of effective road safety intervention programmes in the future will cease. 

 It is people who have made the biggest contribution to road casualty reduction in the last 30 years. You, the local authority people, the people who provide vital road safety education and training.  It is people who engineer and improve our road network, it is people that give us safer vehicles to drive, it is people who enforce road traffic law and deter those who put others at risk. 

Changing attitude and behaviour
Engineering and enforcement both have a vital role to play in road collision and casualty reduction. Engineering in particular has made a huge impact by identifying casualty ‘hot spots’ and engineering them out.  We know, however, that it is becoming very difficult to identify sites where pure engineering will help us further.  On the other hand, we, the Road Safety Officers, along with our vital partners, are continuing to play a key role in casualty reduction.  For some time, we have been moving into a world where attitude and behaviour change is becoming much more important to road safety. We are all aware of its importance. It has always been important to us, but I see our attitudinal and behavioural interventions being sought much, much more. 

As budgets for traditional engineering measures reduce and roads policing becomes less visible, it is vital that we concentrate on the attitudinal and behavioural element of road safety with the road using public.  We have to touch their hearts and change their minds. 

We can provide the safest road network in the world, and the safest vehicles, but if we do not change the public’s attitude and behaviour, and maintain the changes, we will always have a costly casualty problem.   Changing attitude and behaviour is without doubt the most challenging element of casualty reduction. One could argue that it is the most important.  It is also the most difficult area to evaluate.  But we must never shy away from these challenges, or be beaten back by the claims that if it is too difficult to evaluate, it is too difficult to deliver.  We know that more than 90% of all road casualties are caused by human error.  So it makes absolute sense to me that we have to put most of our effort into changing that.

Developing effective partnerships
During the last 10 years, we have seen a growth in “other national agencies and organisations” being given ‘remits’ to deliver road safety. We have seen an increase in activities from other “interested parties” – for example in the private sector, and within organisations that have charitable status.  Our job must be very attractive as it seems that everyone even slightly involved with the road network wants to be, and claims to be, a road safety professional. This highlights yet another challenge that we face – to ensure that anyone delivering road safety at any level, from within any organisation, is suitably trained and qualified.

During the last 10 years, we have been given access to budgets and grants to help us fulfil our role and to reach government set targets. We were encouraged to do “joined up” work under the banner of multi agency working, with other agencies and organisations that also had access to budgets and grants.  We all tried very hard to work in partnership, and in some areas it worked very well. 

It is my view, however, that in many areas, the system actually created an unhelpful competitive market, with all the players continually vying for a bigger slice of the road safety cake. I have learned that ‘corporate ego’ exists.  While in some instances we have seen some great successes and improved casualty reduction, I know of areas where partnership arrangements simply don’t work, where corporate and individual ego is large and competition is greater.  That is not good for our profession and we must all seek solutions that will create a level playing field, and encourage a non-competitive, systematic, sensible, affordable and comfortable way of working with others at a local level. 

At the local level, as budgets are reduced, the development of effective partnerships will be vital.  Furthermore, by ‘joining-up’ in a non competitive way, we will make it far easier to use a ‘total place’ approach, which essentially looks at the whole area, identifying and avoiding overlap and duplication between organisations, and also to look at the range of policy objectives and the needs and wants of the community. The total place approach is a useful way to explore areas of potential conflict and help to spread the workload, and the costs.

Funding for the future
So what about costs and more importantly, what about funding in the future?   Despite cutbacks in our traditional funding streams, and because of the future effects of the Comprehensive Spending Review, we will need to become very smart in seeking relevant areas of tangible funding. We will all need to know how to access it.  We must not rely on others to seek funding for us; it is up to each and every one of us to become much more aware of the future funding mechanisms, and to pursue every lead.  Road Safety GB as an organisation will, of course, assist you wherever possible to identify those vital funding opportunities.  We are currently working on guidelines that may help you prepare for impending cuts.  The guidelines will include some basic advice and processes that may help you to stave off cuts or redundancies and help you to survive into the future.  These will be published very soon.

Working more closely with the NHS
Looking further ahead, the Primary Care Trusts will be dissolved in 2013, and 96% of the budget will be managed by GPs.  The remaining 4% of the budget will be going to the local authorities who will be responsible for health improvement, according to the NHS White Paper “Liberating the NHS”. 

Is casualty reduction not health improvement? Can we as road safety professionals tap into that funding to help reduce road casualties, which will in turn reduce the burden on the NHS?  We need to ensure that our links with the NHS are strengthened now. We cannot afford to wait.  Also, the health profession needs to become more commited to road casualty prevention. It needs to assist in the funding of effective preventions.  But again, I must stress, that effective road casualty reduction needs people, it needs the right people with the right experience and qualifications, to deliver the right interventions.  We as road safety professionals, I am sure, can work closely with our health profession colleagues, and in the future we will be inextricably linked.  But no doubt we will need to work hard to set aside the corporate ego, and to put in place a non-competitive, systematic, sensible, affordable and comfortable way of working with others at a local level.

Stay positive, stay optimistic, stay focussed
So once again, it is important to stay positive, to stay optimistic, and to stay focussed.  We have been around a long time, we are a constant.  We have been through tough times before, and survived.  We are a resilient group of professionals. Since becoming chair of Road Safety GB 20 months ago, I have had many meetings with other agencies, other local authorities, and I have visited almost every regional Road Safety GB group.  I have seen where help is needed, I have seen where it all works really well, and I have seen potential for more great things. 

What I have not seen is a lack of enthusiasm or motivation.  Enthusiasm and motivation are essential criteria for this job.  Road Safety GB is developing very quickly and we are living up to our name.  It is so important that as we go forward through these very tough times, we go forward together, and help each other when it is needed.  We are very good at working together and that must continue.

Each and every one of you is committed to road safety, and you all do a great job. My only real criticism of our profession is that we just get on with the job and we rarely blow our own trumpets.  But 2011 is the year to start blowing those trumpets!

Best wishes for the coming year.

Alan Kennedy


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    I agree with Alan that evaluating behavioural work is difficult but it is also essential if it it’s value is to be supported. There is growing experience in this area (Oldham and Sheffield Councils, DfT evaluation tool) and not all methods are expensive or require waiting a long time to carry out.

    Kris Beuret, Leicester
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    Whilst I cannot dispute the factual statement that as accidents reduce, finding engineering solutions is becoming “more difficult”, I think we need to be careful how such statements come across. The perception I am fearful of (outside the profession, and possibly by some inside) is that this leads to a “sound-bite” that is repeated and increasingly mis-understood. Yes finding clusters is more difficult, but there are still hundreds of schemes built each year (and many more thousands that could be excellent value for money) with hugely impressive rates of return. A look at Eurorap May 2011 announcement of improved roads shows this to be true and resonates with DfT Road Safety Report No 108 (Atkins) which demonstrated continuing very high rates of return for engineering interventions.

    None of the above comment should be seen as a side swipe at non-engineering interventions which have a strong role to play, including supporting engineering ideas at specific sites.

    Peter Whitfield, Manchester
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    I am not sure that I do do a great job. That is for others to judge. Luckily for me that’s almost impossible in an arena where improvement can often be invisible.
    There is much that is good in the above, but I do have one main criticism. Unfortunately, it is fundamental.
    It simply is not true to say that more than 90% of all road casualties are caused by human error.
    That a human failing contributes to around 95% of accidents is probably closer to the truth.
    Regarding “partnership working” however, I am pleased to hear the note of caution. We seem to have forgotten that too many cooks spoil the broth.
    I am also interested in the reference to “corporate ego”. Does its existence explain the continuing failure to improve data quality?

    Andrew Fraser, Falkirk
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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