Staffordshire County Council: innovative risk-based approach to gully maintenance boosts efficiency

01 July 2021
An Amey employee in PPE, carrying out an inspection of a drain.
Since 2014, Staffordshire County Council (SCC) and Amey have been working in partnership to manage and maintain the county’s highways infrastructure. A key element of the Infrastructure+ contract is the inspection and maintenance of gullies (drainage pits covered by open metal gratings located at the road edge), ensuring they are clear of silt and waste to support road safety and minimise the risk of flooding to nearby properties.

The challenge: poor visibility of gully location and condition data

Following an annual review of the services in 2017, we identified gully cleansing operations as an area that would benefit from efficiency improvements. While there were 160,000 gullies recorded in the works programming system, our desktop analysis of Staffordshire’s road network suggested the true figure should be over 180,000. This indicated that our records of existing gully locations and conditions were inaccurate.

We were using two separate IT systems (one for cyclical inspections, one for reactive visits). There were variations in how gullies were identified on each system, leading to duplication of data and effort. We had also inherited a backlog of works from the previous contract and needed to address these to reduce the overall workstack.

Our innovative solution: a risk-based asset management approach

We moved to a risk-based approach to determine cleansing frequency and consolidated cyclical and ad hoc reactive cleansing visits into one software system, Confirm, improving the accuracy of asset data. We created a cleansing regime based on required frequency (annual for gullies on A roads, biennial for B roads, triennial for smaller roads).

During every cleansing visit, gangs update Confirm using tablet devices and record each gully’s exact GPS location, condition and silt level. We are continuing this exercise as we reach more remote gullies in rural areas that have historically been subject to less frequent visits. Gangs use their tablets to categorise issues (e.g. ‘needs high-pressure water-jetting’ or ‘grate has seized’). The system allows us to optimise the resource sent, and to reclassify gullies against new risk-based inspection regimes (e.g. more frequent visits for problem areas).

Targets are set for the number of inspections to be completed by each gang per week, allowing four days a week for cyclical works and keeping one day available for reactive jobs.  The number of gangs has been increased from four to six, enabling us to increase the average number of inspections per day from 70 to over 100 - meaning we can address legacy issues and decrease the overall workstack.

Using the new data, we have set up an online ‘Members Portal’ to provide elected members, SCC representatives and the Amey management team with live gully cleansing performance data in a user-friendly map format. This enables us to share information with councillors which they can then communicate to members of the public, helping to manage our customers’ expectations and reassuring them that we are looking after the network.

Outcomes – more efficient use of funds, improved customer response

Through our targeted approach, we have achieved a 40% increase in the number of gullies inspected each month. This increase in productivity allowed us to shrink the total workstack by 18% between July 2018 and December 2019, improving overall network condition and supporting higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Through improvements in the quality and visibility of gully data we can now accurately predict the quantity and type of resource needed, justifying any increase in spend. We track the cost of works against risk, providing best value for money. We are delivering more works ‘right first time’ as better asset information allows teams to be prepared (e.g. arranging traffic management, taking equipment to open seized gully grates).

The improvements in asset data enable us to be more responsive to local issues. Members can view works via the Portal and input their own knowledge of recurrent issues to help inform a change in priority. We regularly seek feedback and hold workshops, shaping our response to customer needs.

We are using the new data to drive continual improvement through external benchmarking (e.g against Amey’s Kent contract, as the network is a similar size) and internal benchmarking, comparing data between gangs to incentivise performance.