Right investment, skills and strategy key to infrastructure unlocking devolution benefits

Placing infrastructure improvements at the heart of the devolution agenda could significantly boost local growth, environmental sustainability and quality of life - and with the right investment, frameworks and skills Combined Authorities can realise these full benefits, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

Devolved decision making will be key in delivering Britain's infrastructure moving forward
Devolved decision making will be key in delivering Britain's infrastructure moving forward

In its State of the Nation: Devolution report launched in Birmingham today, the leading engineering body backed Government’s effort to rebalance the economy, the focus on infrastructure as the key driver, and the creation of new Combined Authorities and transport bodies.

ICE however set out some improvements to the current arrangements, which it said could further equip authorities in delivering the maximum benefits of devolution to society. In a 10 point plan it called for the bodies to be granted greater access to flexible financing streams to supplement central Government funding - enabling investment in infrastructure that is “transformational”, and the skills needed to deliver it. Furthermore, ICE said an infrastructure strategy based on need should be established for every current and emerging economic area – including more rural areas without a multi-city make up - so money is directed towards the right projects.

ICE also recommended that all new devolution proposals clearly set out how they will improve environmental sustainability and quality of life, as well as drive growth, claiming a more integrated approach would lead to broader benefits and could help to garner more public support for devolution.

State of the Nation: Devolution Steering Group Chair and ICE Vice President, Adrian Coy, said: “The benefits of effective infrastructure are well established - it can boost economic growth, create jobs, regenerate communities, connect people and places and drive environmental sustainability. It is right that infrastructure investment is the driving force behind Government’s plans to rebalance the economy, and we hope to see ongoing commitment to the devolution agenda during the EU exit negotiations, so momentum is not lost.

“Looking forwards, Combined Authorities must now take the helm and deliver these benefits locally. This will be no mean feat, but with the right frameworks, investment and skills in place they can succeed.

“We would like to see the restrictions on Combined Authorities accessing additional financing streams lifted, so they can invest in infrastructure – and skills - that can really transform a region. While combined authorities have the will and powers, their financial means are currently limited.

“To ensure decisions on spending are strategic, overarching infrastructure strategies should be developed, based on need. Midlands Connect and Transport for the North have provided greater focus for transport services and we should build on this success, establishing strategies for all networks– recognising their interdependent nature – and all wider areas as they emerge. The National Needs Assessment ICE is leading, which will feed into the National Infrastructure Commission, offers a workable model.

“We would also like to see more rounded devolution proposals. Rebalancing the economy should not only be thought of in financial terms. Enriching people’s lives is not just about increasing their income but also the quality of their living environments. More integrated proposals, setting out how they will also achieve environmental and social goals, will deliver broader benefits to society.”

ICE 10 recommendations

  1. All future devolution proposals should demonstrate how they will improve quality of life and environmental sustainability in addition to driving economic growth
  2. Authorities seeking a devolution deal should demonstrate a clear model for leadership and accountability; however models to achieve this should reflect each area’s unique identity
  3. Restrictions stopping combined authorities from accessing flexible private finance streams must be lifted if they are to deliver and maintain transformative infrastructure
  4. Future devolution deals must include funding for digital infrastructure so smart technologies which improve services for the public and the environment can be developed
  5. Infrastructure strategies should be developed for emerging economic areas in England setting out needs, to provide a framework for decision-making
  6. Similar approaches to identify strategic needs should be developed for London, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland
  7. Infrastructure strategies must have resilience at their heart – considering the interdependent nature of each areas networks and mitigating the knock-on failure which can occur during extreme weather, affecting local businesses and economies
  8. Regional pipelines setting out confirmed infrastructure projects should be developed, enabling government, authorities, industry and academia to invest in the right training in the local area
  9. Combined authorities should be given responsibility for the skills development of those aged 16-19 - in addition to those aged 19 plus - to create a more joined up approach
  10. Government should provide pre-submission advice - to ensure high quality devolution proposals that deliver effective outcomes for the country

Download this report

You can find out more about State of the Nation by visiting www.ice.org.uk/stateofthenation

For further information contact kate.ison@ice.org.uk or call 0207 665 2104

Notes to editors

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a leading source of professional expertise in transport, water supply and treatment, flood management, waste and energy. Established in 1818, it has 88,000 members, 25% of whom are based overseas. ICE’s vision is to place civil engineering at the heart of society, delivering sustainable development through knowledge, skills and professional expertise. ICE has long worked with the government of the day to help it to achieve its objectives, and has worked with industry to ensure that construction and civil engineering remain major contributors to the UK economy.