Resourcing maintenance

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Resourcing path maintenance is one of the major issues that affects lowland path management. More than any other factor, it has the potential to prevent or restrict the development of path networks. The claim `nobody is willing to fund maintenance’ is often heard and results in no maintenance being carried out. Local path groups are often best placed to provide volunteer labour, so when planning the path project consider who might be prepared to ‘take ownership’ of maintenance. There are many good examples of volunteer management of paths and working in partnership to deliver path maintenance across Scotland.

Estimating maintenance costs

You should calculate the requirements for routine, planned maintenance at the project's planning and design stages. You will need to work out what maintenance works are needed, how long they will take, how many people are required and what tools and materials are needed. Try to forecast a 3 or 5 year maintenance programme so that you include less frequent tasks such as minor repairs to surfacing or other path related features.

Allow for the cost of management and supervision, as well as inspection in the maintenance budget. If volunteers are to be used, it is reasonable to assume that labour costs will be reduced, but allow for increased management and supervision. Encourage volunteer groups to take charge of maintenance planning and support them in estimating any costs for materials, equipment or specialist contractors.

Delivery options

Many different people and organisations may be involved in maintenance. Whoever does the work, standards must be clearly defined and measurable in order to achieve best value. Maintenance is often viewed as a menial task to be carried out once the path construction, replacement or upgrading work is finished. This view of maintenance is unlikely to engender enthusiasm or help to secure long term resources, and does not fully reflect what affects a user’s experience of a path. Complaints from the public are most likely to arise from lack of maintenance, so the people undertaking that work play an important role in achieving ‘customer satisfaction’ for your organisation.

In-house teams

In-house teams provide a flexible way to get all sorts of maintenance tasks done. They can respond very quickly to emergencies and are able to work to a fixed routine. Keeping a dedicated team in constant work can be difficult, although this is essential for cost effectiveness. One team could be used for maintenance on several path networks and for new path construction works. There are varying opinions on the long-term productivity of in-house maintenance teams, so effective management is vitally important.

Beyond access officers, in-house staff who have been trained in what to look for on a path, can make effective inspectors. They can work to a fixed schedule and will become familiar with paths, being able to anticipate where and when the problems are likely to occur. Rangers or wardens, for example, can carry out inspections and could have a wider role in managing routine maintenance and supporting contractors or volunteer groups.

Contractors

Contractors have been used in a variety of ways, either for single tasks, or with a wider remit to carry out most or all maintenance work. Management and supervision is essential to ensure high standards.

Most contractors will have a full work programme so you may need to allow plenty of lead-in time for a one-off job. They may not be able to ‘drop everything’ in order to clear a landslide that has closed the path or even to come out as a one-off to mow the verges. Rushing contractors can mean higher prices and poorer standards of work.

An ongoing framework contract or service level agreement can be beneficial all round, reducing the cost of commissioning work, and providing some security to allow the contractor to offer better value rates. Building long term relationships with contractors is desirable as they will become familiar with the area and supervision requirements may reduce. Provide enough security for a contractor to be able to resource a maintenance contract, but do not be afraid to re-tender the work on a 3 or 5 year basis to maintain best value.

Not-for-profit organisations

Not-for-profit organisations, such as the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust, National Trust for Scotland work together to manage upland path maintenance on a partnership working agreement in the Cairngorms area. The path maintenance work is resourced by the organisations involved and carried out by combination of contractor, seasonal path maintenance worker, seasonal ranagers and trained volunteers. For further information 'Delivering Upland Path Maintenance - The Benefits of Partnership Working in the Cairngorms'.

Fife Coast & Countryside Trust carry out path maintenance works in the Fife area with their own 'in-house' maintenance team. The Fife Coast Path and paths across the Lomond Hills are inspected by the Trust's Operations Supervisor and the works are completed by skilled maintenance workers.

Land managers

Land managers can help to carry out path maintenance in their local areas. They may have staff and suitable plant and equipment available to do the work. Working with land managers in your area can strengthen relationships and assist future access planning and development. Like contractors, land managers can be paid by retainer sums or for each task. Land managers can also help with path inspections, but will probably require some training. Such arrangements are most likely to work by fitting inspections around their normal tasks, and so the schedule should be flexible. A simple reporting system will help to plan repairs and account for any contractual requirements.

Training organisations

Training organisations have been used for maintenance although the costs and quality of work can vary. Privately run training companies often require a higher price and Council run teams may be better value. Training organisations look for discrete programmes of work linked to opportunities for skills enhancement. An effective way of using them is to bring them on site after an inspection to deal with a number of identified problems. This option may not be as useful for routine maintenance tasks.

Volunteers

Volunteers have been used for path maintenance across Scotland. They may require management, training and support for continued motivation and their contributions need to be valued in order to secure their labour in the long term. This may mean adapting processes to be more responsive to their needs, rather than being convenient to a path manager. Health and safety obligations apply to volunteers as well as contractors, so they may appreciate help in complying with health and safety legislation. Public liability insurance may be required, although some local authorities have volunteer schemes that cover this aspect.

Inspections are a common task for volunteers. Set out a simple reporting procedure, train them on how to record the information and try to get them to work to a routine to avoid a constant stream of minor comments. In some cases volunteers have carried out many small tasks such as lopping overhanging vegetation, picking up litter or clearing small blockages in drains.

Community groups

They will have a strong local identity and can be highly motivated. The main issues relate to maintaining a pool of labour, skills and training. They can do inspections once given training, and may also will be willing to carry out physical works. In some cases they will be capable of taking on the management of a path network and will look to the public sector to help fund their activities. This is usually far more cost effective than any other management arrangement. Often, there is one key member of a community group who motivates the others, so understanding the dynamics of a group is important to long term success.

Volunteer organisations

Various volunteer organisations provide practical volunteering days. Midweek practical volunteering days can be cost effective approach to getting maintenance tasks done on path networks. A team of volunteers lead by a trained supervisor can be an effective way to do planned maintenance tasks as well as minor repairs. The organisation usually provides all training and supervision, but you will need to be able to provide clear instructions about the nature of the maintenance tasks or repairs, and the expected standards to be met. One such organisation is 'The Conservation Volunteers' (formerly the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV).

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