Interview: Peter Antolik - roads director at Office of Rail & Road

Peter Antolik is the man at the Office of Rail and Road charged with overseeing Highways England’s delivery of the current £15bn roads investment programme. He is due to publish his initial report on the road operator’s progress this winter with his first full review due around September 2016. How does he see his role and what are his priorities?

Peter Antolik, roads director ORR

What is your experience of regulated industries?

I have a long background in infrastructure investment with Macquarie Bank, and JP Morgan’s infrastructure fund businesses. With Macquarie I was an investor representative in the purchase of Thames Water, with the role of looking at regulatory issues so the consortium of funders could be confident that they were being well managed by Thames. When the sale went through I was part of the transition team; when the then regulatory director resigned and I was asked to step in temporarily, and then permanently. I saw the company through the PRO9 price control. Having seen regulation from the investment side, and from within a regulated company with all the issues involved with getting management to perform and deliver to regulatory targets, I thought it would be interesting to see things from the monitoring side and here I am.

How do you see your role at ORR?

It is important to point out that we are the monitor of Highways England’s performance, not its regulator. We are not price setting for instance. And the industry has major infrastructure companies that, by and large, deliver well. What is different is that now there is over £15bn of taxpayers’ money allocated to maintaining and improving English roads over the next six years and I need to monitor the effectiveness and progress of delivery against a broader suite of KPI commitments. And we need to make sure that Highways England can justify its decisions. Highways England is an arms length government company, not a private sector business, so I am also dealing with Department for Transport which is more involved with day to day activities than, say, Defra is with the water companies.

How do you see the role developing?

The way you approach the job creates behaviours in the companies you monitor/regulate. To be judged successful we need to build the best understanding we can of the companies involved in the industry, including the supply chain. We have been out on site with Skanska and visited Tarmac for instance, which has brought home the complexity of what is involved in carrying out projects on a live network. We are building trust we hope.  We’re not setting out to catch people out and point fingers. These are very early days and the approach has to be constructive and collaborative.

Are you resisting being too prescriptive?

Yes. We are very clear that we are not there to directly manage Highways England or its supply chain. We don’t want to create an environment where the focus of regulated businesses is all about pleasing the regulator and not the customers. This can lead to an attitude of ‘we can’t do that because the regulator won’t let us’ rather than people being creative and innovative. So I’d say to the roads industry, we have a package of funding and delivery targets but the choices are yours. I want to see you work really hard for your customers and to know there will be penalties if you don’t deliver and clear recognition if you over deliver. That’s where I want to start from.

What is your impression of the roads industry in England so far?

We need a clearer understanding of what customers want and the outcomes they want. That is an area in which Transport Focus and ORR are doing further work along with DfT and Highways England. But according to Highways England’s surveys, customer satisfaction is relatively high. For a network that can cause delays, people are accepting of those delays. What they don’t like are roadworks and the way they are perceived to be managed so we are encouraging Highways England to communicate better why they are needed and why they are so long.

How will you assess Highways England’s performance?

We will need to understand what the balance is between doing something efficiently and at lowest cost with impacts on other priorities – such as journey times for customers and Highways England’s KPIs such as free flowing traffic, economic impact, asset condition and safety. Highways England’s job is not to please the highways monitor, it is to deliver for the taxpayers, road users and other stakeholders. We don’t set price controls like the rail regulator, we are monitoring performance and outcomes.  We mustn’t lose sight of these important points.

Prices are rising as the economy picks up. How will you deal with that?

That’s the efficiency challenge. We will need to work very closely with Highways England on efficiency and inflation monitoring. The expectation is that because we are moving from one year to a five year spending profile, that will unlock a lot of efficiencies in the supply chain through certainty of workload, better use of equipment and the fact there will be less of a need to ramp staff up and down. That will allow that costs to be controlled. We are expecting to see the benefits of the long term approach. The primary contractors (tier ones) will be able to take a programme view and communicate that to their supply chains so everyone will be able to plan for better productivity. Part of our job will be helping Highways England prove that the industry can do it.

Highways England’s new chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said that industry has two years to prove it can deliver this Road Investment Strategy if it wants the same level of investment or more in the next one? How can you help?

There are over 100 investment schemes to deliver in the current RIS. If everyone keeps the focus on those they will do fine. We have had conversations with Highways England already on publishing clear programmes and milestones for each scheme so we can hold them to account on costs and progress. The business is publicly owned and Highways England needs to be transparent. I can understand why they might be reluctant, but we need to know, so that we can hold them to account on their progress. And we need to know the costs. We will continue to monitor progress and costs, and where we see discrepancies between plans and delivery, we will advise DfT on what we think represents best value for taxpayers.

Are there synergies between the road and rail teams at ORR?

Yes of course. We have two big government owned infrastructure companies in our remit. We can learn from the experience and expertise of ORR’s rail regulation work – in particular the change control process, monitoring and data analysis. We also have people here who have years of experience in understanding asset maintenance and management of programmes through the rail work and some of my team have come from the rail side – such as my head of performance Richard Coates. Equally, we are bringing in people from the Highways Agency – Mahier Al-Ani for example who was a senior engineer with the Highways Agency, is bringing to us his understanding of engineering and focus on delivery. Industry should understand that we are here to help; we are not policemen, we are facilitators to help drive the best deal for road users and taxpayers.


If you would like to contact Jackie Whitelaw about this, or any other story, please email