Today Sir John Armitt presented his revised National Infrastructure Commission proposals. This follows on from a Draft Bill presented last year, consultation on which closed in October 2014.
EEF responded to that consultation expressing our concern at the closed nature in which infrastructure priorities would be identified, with Whitehall and the government of the day prioritising behind closed doors.
Independent in name only?
More specifically, we raised concerns at the level of influence the Treasury and the government of the day has in the overall process. The proposed structure would result in both the Commission and its main output (a National Infrastructure Assessment) being independent of government in name only.
The Commission would still be appointed by the government of the day and be directed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would also take the National Infrastructure Assessment and amend it as they see fit. This does little to forge a cross-party consensus.
It would be inconceivable for the Government to amend the output of other independent bodies such as the Committee on Climate Change, the Office for Budget Responsibility or the Office for National Statistics – precisely because such an amendment would fundamentally undermine that output.
Public engagement crucial
Our analysis of the issue, undertaken as part of the development of our own UK Infrastructure Authority proposals, identified that the key issue holding back the tackling of infrastructure challenges in a timely manner was the public mistrust in any analysis presented by the machinery of Government.
There was a recognition by Sir John Armitt today that most responses to the consultation stressed the theme of public consultation being a fundamental part of the entire process and a “critical success factor”. However, the revised proposals does little to address some of those concerns.
The only way to overcome that was to establish a process to arrive at a strategic assessment of infrastructure needs, which is open and involves the public and which then maintains that assessment and its interpretation independently of government.
This would not only create robust evidence on which a more streamlined political and public debate can take place, but would also create a process trusted by political parties and other players.
Such a process would help to refocus the debate on how best to meet our infrastructure challenges, not on whether or not the challenge has been dreamt up in pursuit of a 'vanity project'.
Debates about infrastructure cover broad issues such as land use planning, financing and funding. This debate should not take place behind closed doors.
Since publishing our UK Infrastructure Authority proposals, other organisations have also drawn a similar conclusion about the need to put the public front and centre of these debates. We'll continue to make the case to all political parties of the need to establish a UK Infrastructure Authority which does just that.
EEF’s response to the Armitt Review Draft Bill is available here.