According to EEF’s latest survey of members on infrastructure, the quality of infrastructure networks is getting worse, in particular business critical networks such as the local road network and the motorway network.
Looking at the balance of companies, only in one area, the provision of broadband internet, do companies cite a significant improvement in quality over the last two years. A balance of companies also cite that energy supply has deteriorated over the last two years.
This is important as roads are the backbone of the economy and the glue that holds the rest of the transport network together.
For manufacturers, the network is paramount with over four-fifths of manufacturers rating it as critical to their company compared with just 3% who say rail is a critical network.
Additionally, our survey found that manufacturers rate the integration of different transport networks as the worst part of infrastructure provision in the UK and that, despite the improvement in broadband cited over the last two years, digital networks are still poorly rated.
There could be several reasons for this deterioration in the road network.
First, at the local level, local highways authorities get their budgets allocated on an annual basis, both from the DfT and from their respective local councils. This budget has fluctuated wildly (as the chart below of DfT allocations shows).
Faced with this, councils are more likely to pursue a strategy of dealing with the worst roads first (reactive maintenance), rather than a strategic preventative approach of targeting maintenance at the right time.
It is estimated that a planned preventative approach over a number of years can be twenty times less expensive than reactive maintenance.
At the national level we saw a decline in road use on motorways during the recession (we blogged about this previously). Now that we are seeing signs of growth, road use is returning to normal levels eating up what little spare capacity there was in the system.
On broadband, manufacturers are becoming increasingly reliant on high quality access to maintain existing customer and supplier relationships, such as supporting maintenance and servicing activities.
Manufacturers report that the current high speed broadband programme is being rolled out at a slow pace with poor communication and a lack of clarity on when upgrades will take place.
Unsurprisingly therefore, manufacturers overwhelmingly prioritise further investment in road, broadband and energy networks.
The message from manufacturers to the Chancellor for the remainder of this Parliament is clear; complete the job on vital roads, energy and broadband projects. As far as industry is concerned these are far more important than redirecting planning resources to new aspirational projects.
EEF would like to see the Government implement the following recommendations off the back of our survey:
- Complete the job in reforming the Highways Agency to guarantee the promised three-fold increase in road investment
- Bring forward solutions to road projects left on the ‘too difficult’ list for too long including upgrades to the A303, A1 and improved connectivity to regional airports
- Commit to establishing a permanent UK Infrastructure Authority as soon as possible to help identify long term infrastructure needs, improve integration between transport networks and, develop analysis in a more transparent way to better gain public trust for major infrastructure projects
- Recognise the rapidly deteriorating state of the local road network, which has a large and increasing £12bn road maintenance backlog, and outline a more detailed plan of action to tackle the issue
- Amend the Infrastructure Bill to establish the Airports Commission as a fixed body until an Aviation National Policy Statement is designated in the next Parliament