Investment in infrastructure has immediate economic benefits and long-term advantages. But the UK needs a strategic approach from the next government to deliver the infrastructure we need to thrive.
The UK’s population is growing, our climate has become increasingly unpredictable and technology is opening up new opportunities for how we can design, operate and use infrastructure. In order to keep pace our next government will need to take a long-term strategic approach to planning and delivering the infrastructure we need to thrive.
Public finances will remain tight for the foreseeable future and government will have no choice but to prioritise. We must not forget however that more than half of the investment set out in the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan will be in privately owned assets, including the vital energy and digital sectors. We are already seeing some worrying indications of investment plans being deferred, perhaps the first sign of a Brexit effect. Further uncertainty would be, to say the least, unhelpful.
So, against this backdrop a long term strategy isn’t a nice to have. It is vital. We need, dare I say it, a strong and stable commitment to the right combination of new infrastructure, enhancements and deployment of technology to get much, much more from our existing networks.
Without all this we simply won’t be able to secure the world class infrastructure that all parties say they want – at a price the public can afford to pay through their taxes and utility bills.
That is why we have called on all parties to commit to the work of the National Infrastructure Commission and place the development of our infrastructure at the heart of their economic policies.
Led by Lord Adonis and ICE Past President Sir John Armitt, the National Infrastructure Commission provides impartial, expert advice on long-term challenges. Next year it will publish the first National Infrastructure Assessment – drawing on ICE’s 2016 National Needs Assessment. This assessment will provide the government with analytical backbone and clear, long-term direction.
The improvements to our transport, energy, water, and housing networks that will follow are the foundations upon which our future prosperity and quality of life will be built. If we get this wrong, all the efforts being put into creating an industrial strategy and boosting Britain’s flagging productivity will be undermined.
In short as our National Needs Assessment demonstrated that short-term, knee-jerk decision making and stop-start pattern of investment will cause harm lasting decades.
But the benefits are not only for future generations. If we get it right, we’ll provide a boost for the construction and infrastructure industries - a huge part of the economy and on some measures significantly bigger, if less glamorous than financial services.
Some numbers bear this out. In 2014 the construction industry contributed £103bn in economic output, 6.5% of the UK total. Every 1,000 direct jobs created by the delivery of new infrastructure boost wider employment by more than 3,000 jobs. For every £1 of infrastructure investment the country sees £2.84 worth of economic activity.
So investment in infrastructure has immediate economic benefits and long-term advantages.
That is why we are asking for parties to place infrastructure at the heart of economic policy and that is why we stand ready to help inform that process when they do.