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HeavyTorque Issue Two: Outsourcing



Managing the abnormal loads notification process is a costly exercise for all those involved. Whether you’re a structure-owning or police authority checking hundreds of notifications each week, or a haulier trying to submit a short notice notification for that urgent job you just can’t afford to turn down, it costs both sides time and money. It adds nothing to the bottom line and doesn’t generate any revenue for either side of the fence. Yet it must be done to safeguard bridge and other structural assets, that are valued at billions of pounds. The process must be completed to keep the traffic flowing and highways safe for other road users – if structures are damaged, it’s a lengthy and disruptive exercise to repair them.

In November 2013, one of the biggest ever loads transported on Britain’s roads was moved from Didcot Power Station to Avonmouth Docks. The combination of transformer and vehicle weighed in at 640 tonnes – heavier than a space shuttle. The vehicle used to transport the transformer was 100m-long, 5m-wide, and took up two lanes of the M4 causing 13 miles of tailbacks for other traffic. This epic journey was nine months in the planning, and involved an accompanying team of twenty people. It was a spectacle for all those who watched along the route of its 4mph journey and made headlines across the UK.


Ultimately for these giant moves, the customer understands the timescales and associated costs, but if you’re moving a 50 tonne excavator, it’s not always easy to manage a customer’s expectations against your legal obligations. They need it tomorrow, they can’t wait the two clear working days, and why are you more expensive than the company up the road that doesn’t notify?

Thankfully the majority of abnormal load movements that take place over Great Britain’s road network are a fraction of the size of a space shuttle. However, if a vehicle and load weighs over 44,000kg (or, for a mobile crane, 12,000kg in gross weight) there is a statutory duty to notify and provide an indemnity to Highway, Bridge and Police authorities of your intention to travel along the roads managed by them. This gives structure owners the opportunity to check that the weight of the vehicle and load travelling will not cause damage to any of their assets along the planned route.


Across Great Britain, over 350 structure-owning authorities are responsible for maintaining and protecting thousands of bridges, culverts, gantries and retaining walls spanning 245,000 miles of road network¹ and, for some authorities, bridge asset values can run into the billions of pounds. The Highways Agency network alone is valued at more than £109 billion and includes more than 9,000 bridges, nearly 9,000 other structures and 34,000 drainage assets².

When, in 2001, HGV weight allowances increased to 44 tonnes, structure-owning authorities had to start a program of assessment to ensure their structures could carry the heavier vehicles. For some authorities, although the assessment program is completed, 14 years on, the work to strengthen bridges has been curtailed by insufficient funding. As an example for local authorities, the funding gap is growing at around £2.1 billion a year, adding up to £14.4 billion by the end of the decade³. Additionally, the Highways Agency Government funding has reduced by £6 million over the last four years.

To protect their valuable assets, structure-owning authorities have a duty to check each and every abnormal load notification received. This means plotting the planned route, identifying all their potentially affected structures and cross referencing their assets structural data with the notified vehicle configuration (axle loadings, spacings, weight, length, width, height and size of the vehicle and load) to ensure safe travel over or under their assets without damage.


The department responsible must contact hauliers if there is any issue with their route within two or five working days, depending on the weights involved. The department effectively needs to provide cover five days a week, 52 weeks a year, and have access to a supervisory engineer as a backup.

To put this into context, Kent County Council received over 30,000 abnormal load notifications (emails and faxes) in 2013. On average, that’s over 100 received each working day to be entered, plotted and checked; about one every four minutes. With Kent’s overall budget cut by £239 million in 2013, providing this non-core activity adds a financial burden in resource costs alone.

On the flip side, hauliers, plant operators and crane companies are commercial organisations. Whether a multi-million pound organisation or a small business, submitting abnormal load notifications doesn’t add any profit to their bottom line. In fact, a haulier spending one hour each day producing and submitting abnormal load notifications equals thirty four business days each year lost to paperwork.


For hauliers, outsourcing has been an option for a number of years. There are a handful of agents across the UK providing an outsourced service to submit abnormal load notifications on behalf of their clients. Paul Freeman of Traffic Facilities has been providing an outsourced service to hauliers for many years. “The majority of hauliers are conscientious, they understand the reasons for submitting abnormal load notifications but it’s not their core area of expertise and they don’t like doing it,” he says.

Clare Barber manages AbHaulier Services, submitting notifications on behalf of hauliers, plant operators and crane companies. She explains: “A number of hauliers came to us as they were struggling to manage the notification process in-house. If you’re a driver/owner, you make your money out on the road, not completing paperwork. We have other customers who didn’t have the experienced resource in-house to cover annual holidays or sickness, so this was another area where we could help alleviate the problems of notifying. We provide a backstop for our customers; they can concentrate on managing and growing their business, without the added pressure and cost of notification paperwork.”

As a non-core activity for both structureowning authorities and hauliers, outsourcing the management of abnormal loads processing and notification to third parties could be the answer. For structure-owning authorities, however, it’s still a relatively new approach, and one that they’re sometimes reluctant to consider.


People worry about a loss of control but outsourcing, properly done, offers multiple advantages. Cascade Software provides a specialised service to our customers; abnormal loads management is our core business area; we’ve been doing it for 20 years.

In this specialised market, outsourcing works. Running a team in-house to process notifications is expensive. Factors such as salaries, staff benefits, recruitment, cover for holidays or sickness, training costs, IT costs, office space, and software all add up to a sizeable amount. Outsourcing removes any responsibility for recruiting, training and retaining staff, covering staff holidays and sickness and provides fixed budgetary costing which is vital to authorities already struggling with tight budgets.

Currently, Cascade Software manages the entire abnormal load process on behalf of Balfour Beatty Mott McDonald for HA MAC Area 4 and ASC Area 10, on behalf of EM Highway Services for ASC Area 9, on behalf of AOne+ for HA MAC Area 12 and on behalf of Kent County Council and Medway Council.

Ian McLauchlan I.Eng., M.I.A.M Asset Champion – Structures, Balfour Beatty Mott MacDonald, has embraced outsourcing and understands the benefits it can provide “Cascade’s previous experience in delivering a reliable, end to end abnormal loads service for other Highways Agency managing agent contractors made it the clear choice,” says McLauchlan. “We have reduced our operational costs, and removed the reliance to manage, support and train and specialised in-house team.”


We’ve all been on the receiving end of that frustratingly difficult telephone call with an outsourced call centre and as such outsourcing, for some, has become a dirty word. Banks were especially guilty of this a decade ago and have rapidly switched back to providing their customers with an in-house service. Organisations need to be very clear about which business areas to outsource and why. There also needs to be a solid understanding of the benefits and expected results from an outsourcing arrangement (financial or otherwise).

If organisations, large or small, embrace the idea of gaining key expertise at a fraction of the cost of employing that expertise in-house then it’s a clear and sensible alternative for all those involved in the notification process.


HeavyTorque Issue Two: Outsourcing


1 — Department of Transport Road Lengths in Great Britain 2011

2 — Highways Agency Annual Report and Accounts 2012-13

3 — Future funding outlook for councils from 2010/11 to 2019/20, Local Government Association, July 2013