This article is no longer listed, please search the site for up to date articles

  • Bio: Nick Roberts works for Essex County Council as the manager of the Passenger Transport Coordination Centre. This team was established five years ago following a best value review with the aim of pulling together all the passenger transport responsibilities

Nick Roberts

No I am not a bus spotter and I don’t spend my weekends in an anorak scribbling down numbers on railway stations!

There has been a misconception that because you work in passenger transport it is perceived you must have a need to indulge in these activities and often that to progress your career you need to have an interest in this area. I openly admit to falling into a transport career but my work has certainly been fulfilling and challenging thus far.

From university to local government

After graduating in 1991, I began my local government career with Derbyshire County Council in the education team responsible for the assessment of home to school transport and free school meals. It was my first experience of the office way of life and something I really enjoyed and, whilst I didn’t realise it at the time, it was nice to have limited responsibility. I entered the job market at a time when graduate recruitment had dried up so I was happy to be patient with my career and progress steadily.

Improving school transport systems

I moved to the public transport unit in 1994 where my involvement in passenger transport really evolved. I had responsibility for allocating children to the most effective forms of transport while monitoring the performance of the contracts. School transport is certainly an area where you can develop skills; you need to be able to communicate, negotiate, be strong, fair and diplomatic and show initiative – all skills that are transferable to many career roles.

Of course technical knowledge helps, but I see managers as wanting to attract staff with good all-round skills into the industry, with the understanding that the technical knowledge can be gathered over time.

New challenges and qualifications

My big break came with the move to Thurrock Unitary Council. I felt I was a real beneficiary of the government re-organisation of the time. The devolution of transport powers from the county council created an excellent opportunity to be involved in a bit of everything relating to passenger transport. I had experience of school transport but at Thurrock I became involved in other functions such as community transport, local bus, rail and more strategic functions like the Local Transport Plan and government challenge funding bids.

And importantly there was the opportunity to study for my CILT (then IOLT) diploma. It was something they’d promised they would let me do at the interview so I wasn’t going to let them off the hook. People often comment on why I left the rolling hills of the Peak District to move to the industrial Thames Gateway, but it was important for my career development that I was able to move where the job opportunities were and something I have never regretted.

The ability to be able to train and study gives you a sense of recognition and commitment from your employer. I was encouraged to do the diploma and advanced whilst at Thurrock and most importantly was able to do the Step One and Step Two programme. This involved travelling to Leamington Spa and made the studying much more fun and easier to bear.

It takes some motivation to study as well as do the full-time job and meet family and social commitments, especially when you’ve been out of the learning loop for a while.

But the ability to attend lectures, asks questions, meet colleagues and thus share queries was a big plus in me getting through the workload and ultimately the examinations.

Establishing the Passenger Transport Coordination Centre

Following a major best value review of passenger transport in Essex, one of the key outcomes was to establish the Passenger Transport Coordination Centre and the post of manager. In a nutshell our role is to ensure we meet other department transport requirements by spending their money most effectively. We ensure all our customers (we take over 20,000 children to school everyday) get the best possible service and of course, as the team name suggests, our aim is to maximise efficiencies by coordinating transport across all the specialisms.

One of the key objectives was to incorporate Social Care transport into the team, which has been challenging.

Working for such a big organisation does have its difficulties, but equally there is so much expertise and support available.

I love working as part of a team and seeing people develop their skills and careers. When I got my first management post I was told that this is where the job gets difficult; ‘work would be easy if it wasn’t for the staff that you deal with’. I can see this point of view, however, working with differing personalities is all part of the enjoyment and challenges.

We all have bad days, but ultimately we have to enjoy our jobs and encouraging and motivating staff has to be one of the top priorities of any team manager.

The team continue to tackle the problem of rising transport costs and are particularly proactive in addressing anti-social behaviour on buses through our student theatre interactive performances. We are also developing opportunities involving health transport integration. There remain new initiatives to develop and incorporate, and transport continues to be high on the political agenda, both nationally and certainly in Essex.

Skills required

One of the major skills it is important to develop is change management, something that has become more apparent in the last year in Essex. Gone are the days when local government can be seen as a stubborn bureaucratic animal, the focus is on us being slicker, more customer focused and therefore more reactive to the outside environment.

We must remain competitive and efficient and the role of a manager is to ensure that they are proactive in influencing this as it is no fun having it enforced on you. Essex is currently raising the bar in terms of local government by challenging the traditional ways of delivering services.

Current affairs in local government and passenger transport

The current economic climate has resulted in an interesting time in terms of the perception of working in local government. When private sector friends are feeling uncertain about their future, local government looks a much more attractive place to work.

I think team members have come to appreciate this but in a recession you have to be more accountable and transparent in the way we spend the public purse than ever before, and complacency is not an option.

Back to Top