Copper’s Sam Cranston shares his thoughts following his attendance at the recent National Infrastructure Commission conference.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is a good thing. I think most are in agreement with that. Following presentations from the commission’s chief executive, Phil Graham, and commissioner, Sir John Armitt, I am confident the NIC is the right vehicle – with the right people – to deliver on its mission to transform the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects in this country. What I am not so confident about, and what I sense others are less optimistic about, is support amongst politicians.

Much of what was discussed at the conference echoed what Copper Director, Ross Hayman, wrote on our blog in March – if the NIC is to deliver on its objectives then it will need full commitment from Government. So far the Government has said it agrees with all 25 recommendations the commission has made across the three reports it has issued. So far so good. But agreeing is not committing and we must wait to see how the Government acts on those recommendations, and the others to follow in two more NIC reports. As Ross points out, the Government’s record so far for delivering on infrastructure commitments is not being met with great applause.

What we seem to be lacking is leadership. Copper recently published a report, with a foreword from Lord Adonis (Chair of the NIC) and launched by Sir John Armitt, which examined ‘Attitudes to Infrastructure in Great Britain’. It found that the majority of British people support infrastructure development; they want us to aspire towards delivering world leading infrastructure or solid improvements. But what British people want in return for their support is leadership. Leadership from the industry AND leadership from policy makers. Arguably the creation of the NIC should go some way to providing the desired leadership, but they in turn will need support and leadership from the politicians that make the final decisions.

It is obstructive to keep talking about ‘how’ we should be delivering major infrastructure in this country. We need to start doing. This is what the British people want, and this is what they will support. As one participant at our survey focus group put it, “we seem to kick these things around as a nation without getting anywhere”.

The rhetoric from Phil Graham and Sir John Armitt was positive. They just need the support from Government (this one and the next) to ensure the NIC can genuinely transform the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects.