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'There’s much to do’: UK parliamentarians react to 2024 Infrastructure Progress Review

Date
24 May 2024

All-Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure (APPGI) members got a sneak preview of the National Infrastructure Commission’s latest report.

'There’s much to do’: UK parliamentarians react to 2024 Infrastructure Progress Review
The review highlighted progress on electricity transmission and water, but “there’s much to do”. Image credit: Shutterstock

One of our roles as the APPGI is to build greater links and understanding across the sector – specifically, with parliamentarians and policymakers.

A sneak preview of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)’s annual progress review – under strict embargo a day before publication – was always going to attract interest.

Indeed, it did. Thanks to colleagues for attending, especially those coming for the first time.

And thanks to NIC chair Sir John Armitt, deputy chair Julia Prescot, and CEO James Heath for being so generous with their time and open with their comments.

‘Good in parts’

Sir John Armitt gave us an excellent tour d’horizon of the NIC’s assessment of the government’s performance this year.

The short answer was “good in parts”, though I recommend visiting the NIC website for a full read.

Positives were the Winser Report on speeding up delivery of new electricity transmission infrastructure, which just needs implementing, and progress on water supply reliability.

But there’s much to do. Negatives were continuing uncertainty on long-term funding, recognising how challenging that is in globally turbulent times.

Everyone had questions about energy

We had an opportunity to ask questions of the NIC leadership.

Questions covered a breadth of issues. But as colleague after colleague raised it, a bias towards the energy sector became clear.

We ranged from questioning the real appetite for nuclear power, to onshore wind, to the tension between land use for solar and farming, to floating offshore wind, to hydrogen strategy.

Colleagues were coming at this with different concerns, so it’s slightly misleading to say there was a theme.

But at the heart of the questioning was a desire for greater domestic energy generation, greater energy resilience, and more speed in our progress towards them.

I asked about offshore wind and how floating platforms would open more of the sea, especially in deeper waters. This is already happening, of course, but let’s get on with more.

Success needs long-term certainty

The NIC had some findings that they were keen to land with policy makers.

The need for infrastructure policy and targets to be consistent was a point well made – and made before. This is important for us all, so needed repeating.

The workforce of the future

The NIC’s concerns about having the workforce of the future – meaning with enough people and with the right skills – weren’t new either.

This, they said, was primarily the responsibility of employers.

I agree with the concern and who must lead on solving it, but I do see a role for the government in assisting.

I’m constantly amazed that skill shortages aren’t front and centre for so many businesses and organisations. For example, last year saw the first NHS workforce plan, about 70 years late.

In the infrastructure sector, long-term ambitions will clearly need many more people, so companies must secure talent early and train their teams.

How does the UK compare internationally?

The last question came from Derek Thomas MP, who asked about cost comparisons between the UK and other countries.

“Work on this is underway”, was the response, but it’s too early for any conclusions yet.

There was much colleague interest in this one. We all know this is a problem.

Any answers on how the UK can improve its international standings in terms of infrastructure performance will find an eager parliamentary audience, none more than in the Treasury!

This was by no means the first APPGI event with the NIC. I value our relationship. Every meeting has been excellent.

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Supported by the ICE, the APPGI highlights the importance of economic infrastructure in the UK among parliamentarians, government, and industry.

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This piece was written and received prior to the announcement of a General Election.

  • Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI)