Infrastructure Growth Pains

Alan Couzens, head of infrastructure tracking and performance, Infrastructure UK

Stabilising the public finances, reducing the deficit and returning the country to growth have been this government’s key priorities. Infrastructure is central to our growth plans and remains vital in addressing wider societal, environmental and global competition challenges.

The National Infrastructure Plan pipeline currently identifies £380bn in investment opportunities. Industry now benefits not only from improved pipeline visibility, but also greater certainty from long-term funding settlements for key sectors like roads and flood defence.

Additional finance is also enabled through the UK Guarantees Scheme, Green Investment Bank, as well as support for institutional investment and sovereign wealth funds. It’s a real achievement that, according to Arcadis research, the UK is one of the 10 most attractive economies for infrastructure investment.

Government and industry have also worked effectively together to improve delivery through the Infrastructure Client Group (ICG). On 1 October, we launched the next stage of our joint programme. This refreshed programme sets out projects and actions to help us to deliver more cost-effective, higher performing infrastructure. It also builds on Infrastructure UK’s Infrastructure Cost programme which has identified £3bn of annual savings since 2010.

But this is no time for complacency. Here are a few other facts to consider. Construction Skills Network forecasts construction employment rising from 2.54m in 2014 to 2.73m by 2019. 50% of current employees are set to leave the power sector alone, with 200,000 recruits needed by 2023. And it’s not just skills gaps, the recent ‘bricks crisis’ has required the de-mothballing of several sites and a 63% increase in imports. Even my simple grasp of supply and demand leads me to conclude that, without clear action, we will have a problem. I’m not alone. A recent industry poll found 97% of respondents worried about skills and staffing as we slingshot back to growth.

So as we move into another phase of the economic cycle, the imperatives of improving productivity and reducing costs remain compelling. That’s why the refreshed ICG programme of work will aim to address these issues and more. Moving ahead, I’m looking forward to working with Andy Mitchell, as the new chair of the ICG. Andy has already articulated his agenda at the recent launch with a clear ‘call to arms’ for industry to respond to these challenges and opportunities.

Thankfully, commitment to infrastructure retains strong cross-party support – something we cannot take for granted. It’s vital that we all work to improve delivery and demonstrate the benefits of sustainable investment in our infrastructure.