By Paul Chandler
I know, I know, you are probably sick of hearing about That London; I know I am and I live here, but hear me out. We recently went through a review of our Street Works Governance that makes for an interesting tale. We had, by accident rather than design, ended up in a situation where we had two different groups ploughing two different furrows but with a significant amount of overlap.
The London Permit Scheme (LoPS) begin in 2010 with 18 authorities and TfL initially part of the common scheme. With not all authorities taking part, it was logical to have a LoPS oversight structure in place separate to London JAG and London HAUC. Over time authorities joined in a 2nd, 3rd and finally 4th phase which meant all 33 London authorities and TfL were running a common permit scheme. This left us in a situation where, whilst JAG and HAUC meetings were the place for all London Street Works business, Permits, being the key part of Street Works that they naturally become, were always on the agenda and we ended up debating, rehashing and providing updates for things that had already been discussed under a LoPS banner. Equally, at LoPS meetings we would find people would raise a topic better discussed at a JAG gathering, but it seemed churlish not to discuss the topic when a group of people were together who might be able to resolve the issue.
For people with a foot in both camps, it felt at times like the same issues were being discussed in twice the number of the meetings we needed to be having. Now personally, I love the cut and thrust of a healthy debate and twice the number of meetings meant twice the number of opportunities to discuss topics like discounts for working in Traffic Sensitive Streets, a topic that I am always happy to discuss in any amount of detail. Others however did not share my outlook and we eventually came up with a couple of proposed solutions, one less radical around holding meetings on the same day and one involving a larger shake-up with a wholesale merger of LoPS and JAG.
One issue with have in London with 34 different interested parties is that it is difficult to get everyone together in one place and make a decision on the day which might be possible in a region with fewer authorities within its borders. As such, we put it out via a survey and 30 authorities voted with 80% voting for the more radical change. The other question put to people was should elections be held to determine chairs of the various groups we have within London. Again 80% voted yes to this and it did seem to be good practise to fall into line with the two-year election cycle of JAG(UK) and to give every authority in London the opportunity to vote.
We entered a period of nominations with people being able to nominate anyone of their choosing as a potential chair (sometimes without checking with them first, which led to some nominations being turned down by the nominated party) or indeed nominating themselves. Some posts saw original Chairs re-elected unopposed but with others we had 2 or 3 nominees and again a survey went out to the relevant authorities (obviously only South London authorities could vote on South London roles and vice versa.) This period has now concluded and the membership of the new London JAG is now set. We will follow in the footsteps of JAG(UK) and repeat this process of full elections every 2 years with every authority having a say. And we now have a process where it is clear where any issue, Permits, Inspections, SROH or any other should be discussed and where decisions should be made.
So that’s what we did, but I think it’s worth explaining how we are now set up and what groups we have because due to our size we have a unique structure:
London JAG/HAUC – Unlike other regions, it’s not practical to have every authority present at JAG meetings. The group is formed of the elected Chairs and Co-Chairs of various groups. The LoPS Business Task Force, which used to lead on LoPS Governance has been merged into London JAG and the LoPS Joint Working Group where utilities and authorities met to discuss LoPS issues has been incorporated into London HAUC.
North and South London JAG – The place where every authority can attend a JAG meeting and the Chair and Co-Chair of each group sit on LJAG.
LoPS Operational Committee – The scheme document makes reference to the group so it must remain in place. In the new world this will be the time, perhaps only twice a year or when changes to legislation are mooted, where all London Street Works Managers come together and discuss the burning topics of the day.
Compliance Group – This is the forum for discussion of issues around FPNs, prosecutions and all matters around Statutory Undertaker Performance. Aimed at Officer level rather than management.
Permit Practitioners Group – With 34 authorities operating under the LoPS banner, utilities are quick to pick up on any perceived lack of consistency. The aim of this group is to bring those actually granting permits, the ones at the coal face if you will, together to talk about the detail of the day to day operation of the scheme.
Site and Joint Site Monitoring Group – A version of this group has existed throughout the life of LoPS. The aim is to monitor the condition of work sites across the scheme with, among other things, authorities and utilities holding joint site audits where a day is spent in a particular borough looking at both road and street works.
An issue can arise at the Compliance Group or North London JAG and, if it cannot be resolved at that forum it can be escalated to London JAG and if utility input is required, London HAUC and a decision made and passed back to the authority who raised it. Equally an issue can come down from HAUC England, a discussion over the impact for London happen at LHAUC and the advice rolled out to authorities.
We are in the early days but I hope the various mergers, incorporations and reductions result in a more streamlined structure and less talking about the same issues on a different day with a similar but slightly changed group of people!
Paul Chandler is Chair of London JAG and Joint Chair of London HAUC.