The Committee heard, amongst others, from Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and co-author of ICE's recently launched National Needs Assessment (NNA), and Richard Threlfall, Partner and Head of Infrastructure Building & Construction at KPMG who leads ICE's Northern Powerhouse Panel, also a co-author of the NNA.
The Committee convened to explore the Government's infrastructure spending commitments as outlined in the Autumn Statement. Professor Hall said that Government needed to be become better at undertaking Cost-Benefit Analysis at the start of a project, but also to monitor and assess performance in the long run. He also pointed to a current weakness in post-project monitoring, something which the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is looking at improving by introducing new performance metrics.
Also discussed was the extent to which government should make long term investments in infrastructure assets, as opposed to making smaller incremental maintenance changes. Professor Hall flagged the importance of cross-sectoral learning, citing the regulated water electricity and gas industries as examples of good long term decision making. He said that local authorities could learn from these sectors when deciding whether to undertake road maintenance for example.
The role which the NIC plays will be important in gathering the evidence, he said, in deploying the right decision making methodologies to enable the government to be a smarter client.
The witnesses broadly welcomed the Government's Autumn Statement announcement of the creation of a new National Productivity Investment Fund of £23bn to be spent on innovation and infrastructure, but said that more was still needed. The impact of the fund on productivity was also discussed, particularly in relation to the boost in productivity on different sectors that could be expected. Echoing recommendations in the NNA, Professor Jim Hall emphasised the importance of an integrated cross-sectoral approach to ensure that these finite resources showed the best possible return on investment.
Inevitably the discussion turned to the regional disparities in infrastructure spending, exploring topics covered earlier this year in ICE'S State of the Nation: Devolution report.
You can watch a recording of the session on Parliament TV.