Will the National Infrastructure Commission make a difference?

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In the run up to the Spending Review last year the Government announced it was setting up a National Infrastructure Commission. We think this will make a real difference as reliable and resilient infrastructure matters to manufacturers.

Since then the government has appointed an interim Chair, a CEO and has launched a consultation on the governance and remit of the Commission.

Why is a Commission needed?

We've blogged before on the role of an independent infrastructure body. In 2014 we also set out our own plans calling for an independent UK Infrastructure Authority.

The government took on board a lot of our evidence and our concerns around the proposal for a National Infrastructure Commission as set out by the Armitt Review.

What will it do?

The Commission will provide an independent assessment of our national infrastructure, flagging up where future challenges may arise given demographic, economic and other changes.

It will then outline what steps politicians may want to take to address these and when a decision will need to be made.

Will it make a difference?

Literally a few weeks after the announcement of the Commission the government announced a delay in making a decision on expansion at Heathrow airport.

This flagged up just how difficult a task the Commission will have in that at the end, politics will always play a part.

While detractors may point to this as a reason why a National Infrastructure Commission will not make a difference, this misses the wider point.

A Commission isn’t about taking a decision, it's about presenting the evidence, in good time, for politicians to debate and make a decision.

After presenting that evidence it will then report on how long a delay can be allowed before a decision needs to be made, i.e. before a decision is 'critical'.

The challenge with the airport capacity debate is that the Airports Commission should have been set up years ago as Heathrow, our global hub airport, is full and has been for some time.

Had such a debate happened years ago we would now be in a better position to entertain a delay, but we aren't. This is one of the reasons the government needs to make a decision this year.

What happens next?

We expect the government to outline an Infrastructure Bill in the Queen's Speech this year which will formally set up the Commission.

Alongside that the Commission may also start work this year on a National Infrastructure Assessment - this will start a 20 year look ahead at our infrastructure networks and what challenges we need to address as soon as possible.


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