Collaboration, creativity and focus

At times of tight budgets, there is a need to work as collaboratively as possible while at the same time staying true to individual priorities. Simon D’Vali, Principal Engineer for Highways, Bradford Council, has developed extensive links with other departments and services within his own local authority and also with neighbouring local authorities and regional bodies, while keeping a clear focus on the priority of preventing death and serious injuries on the roads.

Avoiding silos

Simon says that when services are under pressure, people can find themselves pulled into working in silos, but this is the time when it’s most important to be creative and find solutions. He also believes it’s important to be honest about the problems everyone is facing.

‘I don’t pull any punches,’ he says. ‘Our budget is so strained and everything has to be evidence-led and dictated by our priorities. We need to work with other agencies while at the same time delivering against our particular priorities.’

Breadth of role

Simon’s ‘day job’ involves both road safety engineering to improve the safety of the roads for all road users, and managing road safety education and publicity (ETP).

He was a civil engineer for many years and branched into road safety engineering when he took a job in designing for traffic management. He moved to Bradford in 2003 with a specific remit of reducing child casualties.

These days Simon’s work combines a great deal of inter-agency working while keeping a keen eye on his own department’s key performance indicators.

Demonstrating synergy

Non-revenue-backed budgets are one of the first things to get hit at times of cutbacks and Simon says that the valuable work of road safety teams isn’t always recognised. When Public Health was transferred from the NHS into the local authority, he made a powerful case for the continuation of road safety awareness work in Bradford.

Simon says: ‘I pre-empted the removal of the budget for road safety ETP by writing a report and giving a presentation to the director of Public Health and her assistant directors, showing the synergy between our department and theirs. I made a case looking at the 66 national indicators for public health and showing how 13 of these linked to what we do in Highways, Transport and Planning.’

He explains:

‘For example, within Traffic and Highways we’re focusing on getting children and adults walking and cycling safely, which improves their cardiovascular health, and these are key indicators that Public Health is also working towards. So, with help from Public Health, we can be more effective in using budgets.’

Simon demonstrated how maintaining the work of ETP helps to save an estimated cost of £2M to GDP per fatality and around £180,000 per serious injury. As a result of this, Public Health funded the ETP team £267,000 a year to undertake their work with schools.

The team consists of 7.25 full time staff. This is well below the recommended number of one full time staff member per 50,000 of the population, because Bradford’s current population is 550,000, and Simon says this makes it even more essential to work smartly.

Key performance indicators

Simon meets regularly with senior Public Health officers to demonstrate how his team are delivering value. He has agreed with them a set of key performance indicators which his team focuses on and which he reports back on.

The key performance indicators focus on the following:

  • Offering a Road Safety Plan to primary schools. This includes educational training sessions targeted at different year groups, advice and information sessions for parents and carers, and free promotional leaflets.
  • Creating champions based in children’s centres who work very closely with the ETP Team.
  • Offering batches of promotional literature to children’s centres and madrasas.
  • Offering primary schools Practical Pedestrian Skills Training for pupils in year 3.
  • Delivering road safety initiatives to priority wards (based on child casualty/Index of Multiple Deprivation scores).
  • Playground-based cycling skills training for year 5 and 6 pupils.

In order to explain to elected members and others who ask why certain areas of the city are prioritised over others, Simon says it’s very important to have sound evidence. There is work underway to pin down the rate of injury in each ward.

‘For example, if there are 10,000 people in a ward and there are 20 collisions, and a ward where there are 30,000 people and 20 collisions, then we clearly have to prioritise the first ward where the rate of collisions is much higher,’ he explains. 

Upskilling others

Staff cannot meet all the demand for delivery, so it’s essential to have good working relationships with schools, children’s centres, madrasas, emergency services and other community organisations.

The team arranges days of action where ETP staff train representatives from schools, madrasas, children’s centres and community organisations.

‘For example, we might teach children’s centre staff how to choose and fit a car seat, so they can pass this information on to the parents. If some schools can’t fit our delivery programme into their calendar, then we will provide them with resources and some hours of training, so they can deliver this themselves. It’s not ideal but it’s much better than children missing out on this information altogether,’ he says.

Working with madrasas

Currently there is work with madrasas to highlight the problems associated with young drivers. The team has engaged with mosques and there has been a positive response from Imams. ‘At the end of Eid, a tradition has grown up that young men hire high-powered cars and travel the streets, speeding and drinking,’ Simon says.

‘Fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year olds can be involved. We need to encourage these young men to understand their responsibility for themselves and for others. Quite recently we’ve had a horrible fatality involving four young Asian men in Bradford – leaving parents mourning. We need to understand what motivates these young people and find ways to stop this happening to others. We are currently creating a joint letter from our team, the council, fire, police and the relevant portfolio holders to encourage Imams to deliver safety messages around Eid.’   

Local application 

‘We have a young population in Bradford and some of the typical issues which go with young drivers, such as non-seat belt use, drinking and driving, and driving too fast. Which impacts on vulnerable road users, such as children, pedestrians and cyclists,’ Simon explains.

The demographic in Bradford is a 43% Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) population, with a very broad range of cultures. For some cultures, obesity is seen as a sign of wealth, so exercise is not viewed as important.

Encouraging cycling has become a priority and a way of improving fitness, and there are investments to promote this through the road infrastructure. But with this comes a potential increase in cycle injuries which need to be addressed by teaching cycling skills. Bradford has invested in Bikeability training to encourage more cyclists, with £147,000 from a Department for Transport grant spent on Bikeability for over 2,000 children in a year. 

Joint resources

On average there are 65 fatal accidents on the roads in West Yorkshire every year and 823 serious injuries.

As part of his job description, Simon chaired the West Yorkshire Safer Road Partnership, which has strategic oversight of all road safety activities in West Yorkshire. 

Simon also became chair of the West Yorkshire Casualty Reduction Partnership. West Yorkshire is the last remaining local authority in the UK to have a joint local authority and police led Casualty Reduction Partnership which provides speed enforcement services. (In other areas these Partnerships are all police led.)

When priority money for this work was removed in 2010, Simon got together with colleagues from the neighbouring authorities of Kirklees, Calderdale, Wakefield and Leeds to adapt the service. Half of the money raised through delivering speed awareness courses to drivers goes back into delivering the road safety objectives of the Partnership.

Initially their decisions went to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority for Transport (which has elected members) for ratification. More recently, the West Yorkshire Safer Road Executive was created to oversee the Partnership groups. It is made up of heads of services who can make significant changes to service delivery in their departments, and have oversight of budgets, as well as working closely with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority for Transport. Simon is now an advisor to this executive and also to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority for Transport. 

Hard-hitting messages

Together the five authorities in the West Yorkshire Casualty Reduction Partnership use some of the money raised from speed awareness courses to buy Theatre in Education (TIE) performances to provide very hard-hitting messages aimed at secondary school pupils who will be future drivers.

Each of the partners has different priorities. Bradford has highlighted lack of seat belt use and overfilling of cars as major areas of risk, and lots of messages delivered through its Theatre in Education performances will highlight these risks.

Child Death Overview Panel

Simon was very keen to be a part of the local Child Death Overview Panel in order to prevent future road deaths. He explained to Public Health the added value his office could bring to understanding how to prevent future deaths on the roads – noticing elements that might not occur to others.

‘For example, we know there are roads where residents have garages which were designed in the 50s which are now too small for modern cars, so more and more people are parking on the road, and there have been cases of children killed when trying to cross between those cars. So we could make suggestions about putting in a crossing to protect other children,’ he says.  

Simon now attends when there is a road death and provides the other members with a perspective of what’s going on in their area in terms of road accidents involving children. Before the panel, Simon or a member of his team meets up with the police at the site of a fatal accident. They look at the environment – considering elements like street furniture, crash barriers, nearness to houses and footpaths.

Together with the coroner, registrars and the police, Simon looks at the findings to decide what could be done to prevent this in future. ‘It’s important to come together and look at this from different perspectives,’ he says. ‘For example registrars have specialist knowledge about the physical circumstances which cause head trauma, whereas we know about the structure of cars and road furniture, and combining this knowledge can give us new insights to prevent similar deaths happening in the future.’

Operation Steer-side

Another joint initiative Simon is involved with is Operation Steerside – which is a partnership between Bradford Council, West Yorkshire Police and Fire and Rescue. The initiative began as a campaign run by the Telegraph and Argus newspaper, which got picked up by local politicians from Bradford Council.

Operation Steerside was funded to target anti-social driving, drug use, drink driving, non-seat belt use, non-insured and non-taxed vehicles. It’s been running for just over a year, and 1,200 illegal cars have been removed from the roads. Money was found from communities and neighbourhood pots and some of the parish councils wanted to take part.

Simon says:

‘There was a lot of overlap and shared outcomes but we also have to make sure we are all keeping the focus on our own objectives within the Strategy. Not all road deaths and serious injuries are linked to criminal activity, many are associated with genuine human error, so it was important to recognise this. Therefore, we have a jointly agreed plan with different focuses and areas of responsibility.'

‘My team’s areas are Prevent – which builds on the awareness raising work we’re already doing with schools and communities, and Protect – which includes things such as reviewing road layouts and identifying hotspots with the aim of designing out the issues.’

This joint approach also allows for ‘gap analysis’ to highlight what is currently not happening. ETP has not been able to focus on secondary schools because of the lack of resources, and it’s been agreed that police and fire services will now assist in delivering this work.

National involvement

Simon is also a member of the national charity, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, and is helping to inform policy which will save lives nationally as well as locally. 

The importance of passion

‘I love what I do,’ Simon says. ‘If you have the right ideals and clear goals and know what you need to do to reduce tragedies, then you have to get very clever about how you work.’

These are the ways he believes you can do that:  

  • Understand the deliverable. This is most important for seeking money.
  • Keep a very strong focus on reducing deaths and serious injuries.
  • Seek out opportunities for strong partnership working but maintain awareness of where your priorities are different from others.
  • Seek innovation, such as new technology and emerging issues in research field which can help reduce injuries. 

Challenges and benefits

Simon says: ‘You have to recognise that in partnership working there are different focuses, priorities and outcomes, but partnership is great when you meet in the middle and can help each other to fill the gaps and deliver joint objectives.’