What are the infrastructure challenges of the future that as a country we need to solve?
Most people would be able to give you a list of say five. But are those the only five? What about my list of five? Of those ten which are the most important? What method would you use to help you decide?
Our current system isn't geared up to answer such a complex string of questions. While we've improved the way in which infrastructure projects are eventually delivered - the process to identify what infrastructure we will need in the future is a complete mess and something needs to change and as we've written before, infrastructure matters to manufacturing.
Several other organisations agreed with us and in a recent letter we set out the key principles of any change, today EEF has published a policy paper setting out what that change could look like.
Other organisations have looked at this and come up with their own solutions including the LSE Growth Commission, the Institution of Civil Engineers, Management Consultancies Association and the Armitt Review. This is our take on what needs to happen.
Last week we set out why this is an issue, public support for infrastructure investment is crucial and to get this there needs to be clarity on the infrastructure challenges we face. Yet the public have been locked out of debates on infrastructure, being limited to comment on infrastructure projects as they are presented by Government.
This not only creates a confrontational us vs. them situation, but misses out on the collective wealth of knowledge and vision available from the entire country.
The approach currently taken of delaying action until the spare capacity in our energy or transport networks is at a critical level not only undermines growth, business and skills investment, but leads to more costly projects being developed overall.
Our approach set out in our paper today, changes this. We recommend:
- The creation of a UK Infrastructure Authority as a Non-Ministerial Government Department, with a parent board to provide oversight and accountability to Parliament. We believe trust in infrastructure analysis is as important as national statistics; it requires the same institutional independence
- Every five years, the Authority will be tasked with developing a new National Infrastructure Assessment which would look ahead at the country's infrastructure needs over a 10, 20 and 50 year horizon at both national and regional levels. It would identify future challenges and trends, and would also outline when political decisions will need to be made
- The public, businesses, political parties and others will then be consulted on the long term assessments and invited to submit their own ideas for projects. Just as with the current Airports Commission, the final decision would be taken by the Government of the day
In effect the UK Infrastructure Authority would be the referee, providing the rules of the game in the form of independent analysis, keeping an eye on the clock in terms of flagging up when goals have to be met and reassuring the public by not being in the pay of any one side or the other.
Such a small change could be a potential game changer and combined with the improved method of delivering infrastructure projects would see the UK leading the world in having a system to identify, plan and deliver infrastructure to deliver a more productive, competitive and environmentally sustainable economy.