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National Infrastructure Commission: what progress is the UK government making?

18 February 2021

— The NIC outlines the key focus for 2021: turning the NIS’s ambition into reality.
— Urban transport funding remains a priority for this year. 
— A critical step is ensuring the various departmental plans that are being developed link back to the NIS.

National Infrastructure Commission: what progress is the UK government making?

What progress is the UK government making with adopting the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) recommendations? The NIC’s 2021 Annual Monitoring Report, published this week, provides practical insight and advice on this question.

While the publication of a National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) was a significant step last year, there are many other areas where action by policymakers is still needed. 

What are the key takeaways from AMR2021? 

The NIC outlines the key focus for 2021 as turning the NIS’s ambition into reality by outlining clear plans, funding streams and targets in key areas.

Recommendations include: 

  • On decarbonising the economy: producing a roadmap to deliver electric vehicle charging infrastructure; a strategy for freight to phase out diesel by 2040; providing an actual plan to achieve the 10 point plan on a green industrial revolution; and improving energy efficiency schemes.
  • On transport and city region devolution: a call for the government to commit to a long-term funding settlement of £30bn for urban transport investment alongside continuous five-year funding settlements for English Mayors. 
  • On broadband: produce a clear plan with milestones to deliver digital infrastructure to the hardest to reach 20% of UK premises. 
  • On an infrastructure bank: get this up and running in interim form by spring 2021. 
  • On regulation: legislate for net-zero and collaboration duties for regulators and for mechanisms to drive up competition for strategic investment in energy and water. 
  • On resilience: respond to the Commission’s recommendations on resilience.  

The recommendations cover areas from the National Infrastructure Assessment, which were not picked up in the NIS.

On decarbonisation and net-zero, the Commission echoes much of what has been said elsewhere – i.e. policymakers need to make hard choices not just issue warm words.  

What needs to happen next? 

AMR2021 is a timely reminder of the progress we’ve made in the approach to strategic infrastructure planning in the UK. Everyone working to evolve that approach does so with the public interest in mind – the better the system, the more the public get the infrastructure they need. 

We echo the NIC’s view that the NIS should be seen as a ‘down payment’, not the end outcome. The next step is to develop the detail to turn the much-lauded ambition into reality.

Where are the gaps?

There were some gaps in the NIS, particularly on urban transport funding; just because the government didn’t accept the NIC’s recommendation doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. ICE shares the Commission’s view that this should remain a priority for policymakers in 2021. 

Another critical step is ensuring the various departmental plans that are being developed link back to the NIS.

There is a risk that we end up with plans for transport decarbonisation, a Union Connectivity Review and heat strategy that are all drawn from different evidence, which would fail to take a full systems view of the challenge.  

Parliament also has a vital role in scrutinising how the NIS is being used to inform and shape decisions by departments on infrastructure. MPs should study the evidence from the NIC today and use all means to scrutinise ministers on enacting the recommendations. 

The NIC Annual Monitoring Report 2021 

As part of its role, the NIC is tasked with producing an annual report ‘taking stock of the government’s progress in areas where it has committed to take forward recommendations of the Commission’. 

The 2021 report is the first to be published following a National Infrastructure Strategy. It builds on the approach to strategic infrastructure planning in the UK by outlining what needs to happen following current and future infrastructure strategies

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Read the full 2021 Annual Monitoring Report from the NIC.