Another year, another party conference season draws to a close. The last conference of the autumn found ICE at the SNP conference in Glasgow.
The SEC in Glasgow was once again awash with yellow as the Scottish National Party (SNP) meet for their autumn conference. The main concourse is lined with banners declaring simply: Hope.
With less than six months to the UK’s exit from the EU and internal debate about timescales for a second independence referendum, the need for hope and some certainty was in the air.
An Infrastructure Commission for Scotland
For infrastructure policy, at least, certainty was in surprising abundance. Just before the conference opened, the SNP announced that it would bring together a Scottish Infrastructure Commission (SIC).
This was a key ask from ICE Scotland in its Manifesto for Infrastructure in 2016, and the move is warmly welcomed.
ICE Scotland Director, Sara Thiam, responded to the announcement: “The creation of an Infrastructure Commission is a positive move, following the Scottish government’s commitment to increase infrastructure investment.
“We’ve advocated previously for a body which assesses Scotland’s long-term needs, involving independent infrastructure experts, which will help ensure we make the right strategic choices and maximise investment.”
The commission will help to steward the £7bn of additional infrastructure investment announced in September’s Programme for Government 2018/19.
Its first responsibility will be exploring what a publicly owned Scottish National Infrastructure Company (SNIC) might look like.
In the wake of the collapse of Carillion and several construction SMEs, concern about fragility in the construction sector is on the Scottish government’s mind, particularly as it looks to increase investment.
How the government sees a SNIC operating and the market gaps it could fill is currently unclear, but we would urge discussion with industry as the SIC undertakes its work.
Rail continues to be a hot topic
As with the other party conferences, rail proved to be a hot topic.
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, reiterated calls for devolution of rail infrastructure management to Scotland at the Rail Delivery Group’s fringe event.
Alex Hynes, Managing Director of the ScotRail Alliance, highlighted the benefits from a ‘clearer line of sight’ between operators and infrastructure.
Touching on the UK’s Williams Review of rail, panellists noted its importance, but argued that it “shouldn’t be allowed to hold up decisions in Scotland”.
The challenges of station accessibility adaptation were raised, with hundreds of Victorian stations awaiting funding for such work. The fact that accessibility is a reserved area of policy, coupled with the high costs of adaptation mean delivering full accessibility will take time.
Carbon reduction and climate change
The publication of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighting the full extent of the climate change challenge set the tone for discussions and debates.
Scottish government energy policy has been geared heavily towards reducing Scotland’s carbon footprint, but the recent Committee on Climate Change report to the Scottish Parliament saw that transport and heat policy had some way to go to meet the Scottish government’s challenging targets.
The Scottish Renewables fringe event on renewable heat highlighted how dependent Scottish emissions targets will be on decarbonising heat.
Currently Scotland produces 5% of its heat from renewable sources, but this needs to grow exponentially, and in a way which protects those at risk of fuel poverty.
Minister for Energy Paul Wheelhouse outlined the range of Scottish government initiatives to address decarbonisation of heat, energy efficiency, and fuel poverty, and explored the range of technologies/approaches which may play a role in a future heat energy system – such as district heating, hydrogen and biomass.
Tackling heat is fundamental to meeting carbon emissions reduction targets, and discussion highlighted that there are tough choices to be made.
State of the Nation Scotland 2018
On 8 November, ICE Scotland will publish its State of the Nation Scotland 2018: Infrastructure Investment report.
The report will explore priority issues for Scotland’s infrastructure, and make recommendations on the direction of future infrastructure investment decisions.