We have a (National Infrastructure) Plan, but what is the strategy driving it?
The existing Plan lists 40 strategic projects with varying levels of government involvement in getting these delivered. However what is the overarching vision behind these 40 being chosen as priority projects? The current set of criteria used to prioritise projects are those that:
- Make a contribution to growth
- Deliver 'new, replacement or enhanced quality, sustainability and capacity infrastructure' and
- Unlock significant private investment
These criteria are so broad they don't provide a clear indication of what the Government is trying to achieve.
The Government may not want to stick their neck out and make such choices – we had a similar debate around an industrial strategy but as we said at the time
“We need a different approach from government; one that brings the same clarity to growth as the government has already outlined on reducing the deficit.”
We do need to confront our infrastructure challenges, even more so given the prevarication that exists in delivering national infrastructure. Hard choices do have to be made now we have simply left them too long, the low margin of spare power generation capacity this winter is an example of just how long we have left it to get things done.
Alongside the Autumn Statement in a few weeks the Government will be refreshing the National Infrastructure Plan. In our submission to the Autumn Statement we argued that this is the perfect time to set out a clearer sense of priority around the infrastructure projects included in the NIP, aligning this with an overarching economic strategy.
Without this, both users and investors will find it difficult to judge the appropriateness of the projects included and will question whether the will exists to really deliver on these.
Just as manufacturers are ambivalent about HS2, so too are they ambivalent about the NIP with business investment levels amongst the infrastructure supply chain (anecdotally) at some of the lowest levels we have seen. There is a general feeling of drift, with the ‘detailed pipeline of infrastructure investment' running to 550 projects.
A clearer strategy and more targeted list of infrastructure projects through the NIP would help to maximise the potential for the UK infrastructure supply chain to capture some of the industrial benefits, by giving them the confidence to gear up and make their own capital and skills investments.
With 17 months left until the next General Election, government should use this refresh to set out the infrastructure strategy, choose a small list of priority projects, outline what needs to be done by the Government to get them delivered and what it wants the status of these projects to be by the time of the election.
Our infrastructure is not what it needs to be, now is the time for some leadership.