116. The successful implementation of the 10 Year Plan is dependent
on the skills and imagination of a wide range of workers ,from
planning and construction to maintenance and customer service.
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association believes that the
severe cut-backs in the roads programme from the late 1980s reduced
efficiencies within the industry and made it "more difficult
to attract young people into careers in the industry, and to retain
experienced engineers, other construction professionals and skilled
Cuts in the expenditure and maintenance budgets since the 1980s
led to local authorities, consultants and contractors running
down staff levels.
That has reduced the attractiveness of the civil engineering industry
to school leavers and graduates to the extent that there is now
an acknowledged skills shortage. Table 6 shows the recent trend
in graduate programmes in related disciplines provided by the
Institution of Civil Engineers.
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117. We received evidence of skills shortages in railway signal
engineers, planners, highway engineers, bus and train drivers,
project managers and funding and procurement specialists.
In the short-term, there is concern about whether sufficient skills
are available to implement the planned programmes. The CBI reported
that 90 per cent of local authorities faced skills shortages.
Bristol City Council told us that they were running with a 20
to 30 per cent vacancy rate and, while it could recruit at the
low experience end, it was losing experienced engineers to the
The skills shortage affects not only the amount of work that gets
done but the type of work. The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport
Executive found that the design and implementation of small schemes,
which are essential to the success of transport policy aimed at
reducing car use, were very labour intensive and it was therefore
constrained in implementing them.
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association noted that "as
a general rule, a number of smaller schemes costing a given amount
will require the services of more engineers than a single major
scheme costing the same amount".
The Commission for Integrated Transport told the Sub-Committee
that its biggest concern had changed from whether there was enough
money in the Plan to whether there were the skills to spend the
money that is there.
The RAC Foundation warned that "unless steps are taken positively
to rebuild the skill base and the resource base, there is no prospect
of delivering what the 10 Year Plan proposes".
118. The Department and the Strategic Rail Authority have taken
steps to begin to tackle the skills shortage. The Department rightly
acknowledges that part of the solution lies with the end to stop-go
funding that the 10 Year Plan should provide.
The Department is also taking action with the Department for Education
and Skills, transport operators, National Training Organisations,
trade unions, professional institutions and others.
The professional institutions have launched a range of initiatives
including the Transport Planning Skills Initiative which is supported
by funding from the Department. The Strategic Rail Authority will
establish a National Rail Academy and provide £500,000 to
develop a number of training initiatives during 2002-03.
Hampshire County Council is using a variety of new initiatives
to try to circumvent the national skills shortage which may have
a wider application.
119. The transport and construction industry builds up its
skills base slowly. It is not realistic to turnon the investment
tap and expect the industry to be able to respond immediately.
The 10-year commitment to transport spending is therefore welcome.
However, the current skills shortage is likely to impede delivery
of the 10 Year Plan, not only in the numbers of schemes implemented,
but the types of schemes, how they are financed and the rate at
which new schemes are implemented. The engineering and transport
skills shortage is particularly acute at a local authority level.
This is a matter of extreme concern as one third of the Plan's
expenditure will be delivered through Local Transport Plans and
in London. The skills shortage is a serious threat to the Plan
and must be treated as such by the Department.