Following the publication of two ICE papers on Covid-19 and 'levelling up', ICE President Paul Sheffield further examines what can be done to improve infrastructure delivery in the current economic climate.
In recent weeks ICE has been working on two significant pieces of policy work, which at first glance may not seem related, but on closer inspection become deeply intertwined.
The first – The Covid White Paper – investigated the impact of the pandemic on the future of infrastructure delivery, while the second – a discussion paper on the Government’s “levelling up” agenda – called for submissions on what infrastructure can do to reduce regional economic disparity.
The White Paper identified four enablers to support the shift from the current tactical approach to improving infrastructure delivery to a more strategic reinvention: Investing in digitalisation and design to make sure that we get the most out of smart technology today whilst investing in the future and the creation of digital twins; Embedding client-led enterprise-based delivery models based on Project 13 principles; Shifting to intelligent and outcome-based procurement models and; fostering new leadership based on a systems integration skillset.
Developing best practice across infrastructure delivery
I have been invited by the Infrastructure Client Group (ICG) to chair The Infrastructure Working Group, which will develop one of the four strands as part of the CLC Roadmap to Recovery. We have been tasked with developing on best practice across infrastructure delivery. The current priorities are feeding into development of new public sector outsourcing guidance for construction, informing the work of Project Speed and informing conversations ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
It is as part of this work that the two pieces of policy work begin to become apparent. As local lockdowns spring up it highlights the increasingly regional response we'll need to repairing the economy.
The virus itself was not affected by regional or national boundaries, however, it did illustrate for us the huge economic disparities across those borders.
As such the ICE discussion paper could not be better timed. By looking at what levelling up should mean, the role for infrastructure and how we can bounce back from Covid and address these regional disparities may help us address systemic and underlying differences that we have been living with for some time.
A well planned and considered infrastructure
You do not need me to rehearse the social value and transformational power of well-planned, delivered and considered infrastructure, but there is an opportunity here to use the undoubtedly seismic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and use our strategic recovery to tackle the geographic and economic differences that are so deeply embedded.
Developing more effective approaches to regional, strategically planned infrastructure and investment could reap rewards for many businesses and communities. It provides us with the chance to identify clear and achievable outcomes that will tackle the potential for uneven economic recovery post Covid and the underlying imbalance between regions at the same time.
Now is the time for civil engineers to accept their leadership role, and potential for life-changing ingenuity, and develop a strategic infrastructure system that provides a solid foundation for our post Covid recovery and a balanced economy that will thrive for generations to come.
This recognition dawned on me while I chaired a roundtable on the ‘levelling up’ paper for the NW and Yorks and Humber regions and I was beginning to hear the assumptions and recommendations of our Covid White Paper being played back to me in this context. It struck me that the engineering mindset is already attuned to the methods of systems thinking that are required here. What we all need to do is ensure that that mindset is heard and put to full use at this most unusual of times.
ICE’s discussion paper will be completed in time for the Government’s Devolution White Paper later this year, meaning that we are well positioned to inform government policy in this space.
As Albert Einstein said; “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”Who are we to disagree with him?