Skip to content
Infrastructure blog

Wizards of Aus: what the UK can learn from Australia's Market Capacity Report

25 October 2021

Infrastructure Australia’s inaugural Market Capacity Report looks at the demand and supply of skills and materials to deliver the country's infrastructure pipeline. 

Wizards of Aus: what the UK can learn from Australia's Market Capacity Report
Sea Cliff Bridge, New South Wales. Image credit: Tim Shepherd/Unsplash

We’ve some serious problems to deal with in UK infrastructure. Supply chains are under pressure, inflation is causing material costs to increase, and there are unprecedented demands for skilled people to deliver an ambitious infrastructure programme.

Investing in infrastructure is a central component of the UK government’s plan to ‘level up’ and to meet net zero. Let’s remind ourselves of the numbers: the 2021 National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline sets out projected private and public investment of nearly £650 billion over the next 10 years.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) estimates more than 425,000 people will be required annually until 2025 to deliver the planned investment of £200bn.

We’re not going to solve these challenges with the same old approaches. We’re also not going to solve them without understanding where the focuses and priorities are.

Is it civil engineers, project managers, crane operators or bricklayers that we are really short of and need to prioritise investment in? There are strong parallels and learnings from a report recently released by Infrastructure Australia.

What is the Market Capacity Report and why was it done?

In the words of Infrastructure Australia’s chief executive Romilly Madew: “The Infrastructure Market Capacity report is an Australian-first and a new data capability for Infrastructure Australia. It provides a level of visibility of the major project pipeline and resulting demand for skills, labour and materials that governments have not had until now.”

The report is designed to support decision makers by analysing regional data and trends across sectors, and identifying when the peaks of demand are expected to occur. The analysis takes this to a very detailed level and through accurate demand forecasting to better plan and mitigate risks to delivery.

What risks have they identified to Australia’s pipeline?

The key risks (and there are striking similarities with our issues in the UK) are:

  • Growth outstripping supply and ability to deliver (33% annual average growth rate);
  • Demand for plant, labour, materials and equipment two thirds higher than the previous five years; and
  • Border closures and supply chain constraints.

What reforms will they prioritise to mitigate those risks?

  1. Active portfolio and pipeline management to smooth investment and manage resource constraints.
  2. Improved front-end engineering and design to avoid waste.
  3. Increased collaboration with industry to support capacity and capability development.
  4. Embedding digital practices, including supporting definitions, systems and processes.
  5. Increased public sector capacity and capability to act as a model, mature client.

What does it mean for the UK?

The IPA (as does the ICE) already promotes similar reforms, with the Construction Playbook and Project 13 being just two examples. If there's an area that we can learn from Infrastructure Australia, it’s in undertaking our own in-depth analysis.

Having the right data underpins the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline. It enables the industry’s voice – backed up by evidence – to be heard in discussions about subjects such as budgets and migration quotas. And it provides credibility with government, especially when it comes to spending decisions – something particularly relevant with the 2021 Spending Review concluding this week alongside the Autumn Budget.

If we want to meet our national objectives, we first need to improve performance. Only then will government and the private sector have improved confidence about their investment in infrastructure.

In case you missed it...

  • Steve Lee, programme manager and ICE policy fellow at Jacobs