A couple of weeks ago, we attended an event at the Houses of Parliament to launch a white paper titled Cities and Infrastructure: ensuring infrastructure continues to drive the UK economy. It took place just as parliament was closing down ahead of the upcoming General Election, timing which, given the nature of the report, could not have been better.
Produced by WSP in partnership with the Association for Consultancy and Engineering and Infrastructure Intelligence, its purpose is to look at the importance of infrastructure as an economic enabler and, in the context of Brexit, to refocus attention on investment in infrastructure to drive economic growth across the whole of the UK and to position the UK is an attractive inward investment proposition globally. The underlying thread in the report is that there is a responsibility on both the government and industry to collaborate better to improve the delivery of infrastructure projects in the UK.
It identified 10 opportunities for government, which were developed out of a series of round tables and an industry survey. Key actions for government included establishing a minister for infrastructure to champion it at the highest level of government, the further devolution of fiscal powers to the UK’s major cities, improving connectivity within and between cities to develop connected economic corridors and moving away from a five-year infrastructure investment plan towards a more stable long-term pipeline of projects.
Likewise, a series of actions were identified for the industry too. These include working with government to deliver infrastructure more quickly, attracting more young people into infrastructure jobs and commissioning research to demonstrate the economic impact of infrastructure at a local and national level.
One action that fell to both sides was supporting the general public to better understand the economic and social value of infrastructure with 80% of infrastructure industry executives stating that the public does not understand the role of infrastructure in enabling economic growth. This may be true but it isn’t because the public isn’t interested in getting involved in conversations about infrastructure.
Our own independent research found that almost nine out of 10 people in the UK want to see investment in infrastructure and 67% of people were interested in being involved in discussions about the future infrastructure needs of their area / region. But, only 6% of respondents believed there was a coordinated national or local infrastructure plan. This perceived lack of understanding about the strategy behind infrastructure, and therefore of the economic and societal benefits, is having a detrimental impact. An overarching and coordinated communications campaign by government and industry is needed to increase public awareness, understanding and knowledge of the benefits that infrastructure investment brings that sits above the individual project communications that the public encounters. And, if we can achieve that groundswell of public support, then the UK is well-placed to unlock the societal and economic opportunities that go with having world-class infrastructure in place.