Tendering your street lighting? What’s left to do once it is done…
As many of us know, low maintenance lighting technologies are paving the way to installations that are expected to last 15 years or more. Once an installation is completed, there is indeed a degree of ongoing activities such as development work, Christmas decorations and maintenance including electrical/structural testing and cleaning, but in terms of core day-to-day activities of the lighting engineer, as we progress will the role within the council be recognizable from its current form?
With large scale investment making it possible to tender and replace the whole lighting stock of a local authority within a matter of years, what will the street lighting department of a typical council look like once this is complete?
Technology is always changing
One line of thought is that with the rapid improvement of LED efficacy, or even a new disruptive technology, the LED lanterns being installed today will in fact be replaced within a much shorter period than their design life. This could be the case if the products on the market in five years or so are able to offer lower energy or improved features that will justify a business case for upgrade. It is difficult to draw parallels with previous lighting technologies, as while there have been leaps in efficacy and maintenance, only recent technologies have presented a complete maintenance free solution for such a period of time.
However, having spoken to a number of sources, there are already cases of local authorities who have completed LED roll outs, and who have subsequently made redundancies within the street lighting department.
One source who is near to completion of a roll out tender has reported being approached by management with a view to making their role part time within the coming years.
Clearly the operations of each local authority within the UK varies widely; partly depending on the size of the road network, and partly depending on the contractual setup within the authority. While some authorities might be structured in a way that means redundancies will be unlikely, what is it about others that could mean they are unknowingly heading on this course?
In order to answer these questions it is first necessary to understand what the current workload of a lighting engineer looks like, and what this workload could look like in the future.
How do you spend your time?
Data collected from a group of lighting engineers working at local authorities suggests that around 18% of a typical engineers’ total time is spent on designing replacement lighting schemes and 14% is spent on managing luminaire maintenance issues such as routine lamp replacements.Interestingly, a fairly large proportion of the total annual work (estimated at almost 20%) is associated with Christmas decorations and event related activities.
This covers the specification, installation, maintenance, and take-down of decorations, signs, banners etc. Unless the council chooses to keep these up all year round, there is no getting away from this base work load. Furthermore, new developments will continue to require an element of lighting design and planning. While the electrical and structural maintenance requirements might change, there will continue to be a requirement to attend to these issues.
It therefore follows that street lighting engineers who are focused on designing replacement schemes within a large department, and who have a high level of job segmentation and specialisation, are more likely to be impacted. The reason for this is that once these replacement design schemes are completed there will be little more to do.
Engineers whose responsibilities mainly cover new developments, section 38’s, Christmas decorations and electrical/structural maintenance are unlikely to be impacted as there will be an ongoing requirement for these activities. But unless these responsibilities are enough to justify a full time position, it’s likely that a council will be looking to make savings once installations have been completed.
A way forward
One way in which council’s might choose to make savings is to combine the ongoing requirement into a smaller number of positions which could then be pooled and shared between different councils. Alternatively this work could be outsourced to the private sector.
Based on the split of workload from those questioned, it can be seen that removing the need for ongoing general luminaire maintenance and replacement schemes (which is what would result from a totally maintenance free LED solution) will leave a hole of approximately 1/3 of the total work. Evidently within a team of three lighting engineers this could equate to a reduction of one full time position in terms of workload.
While on one hand this “extra capacity” in terms of a lighting engineer’s time, could be used to think of new ideas, schemes and programs which could add value to local residents, it could alternatively be a target area for cost savings to be made. The outcome will ultimately depend on the particular authority, but with the current pressures on council budgets, one could ask the question – whilst helping their employers’ realise savings, are lighting engineers inadvertently writing their own P45?