Infrastructure action plan – but do we have the capability to deliver it?

The National Infrastructure Commission published the first National Infrastructure Assessment on 10 July which sets out a plan of action for the UK’s infrastructure over the next 30 years, ranging from transport, energy, water to digital technologies, waste and funding – urging the UK to take decisive action. 

Commenting on the National Infrastructure Assessment, Alistair Hynd, partner and co-head of infrastructure at RSM, said: ‘Having a comprehensive review and a prioritised plan within the funding envelope set by government is a great start; and will be welcomed by the sector, businesses and individuals across the UK.

‘However, infrastructure is a long-term game and having cross party agreement is crucial to seeing key projects through to fruition. We wait to see how the Government responds to the report within the next six months, but unless parties can reach a consensus, we may well continue to see long delays before projects to deliver the infrastructure identified in the Assessment get the go-ahead.

‘It’s interesting that the report cited several examples of how long it can take for infrastructure projects to gain approval, and the negative impacts this can cause, but it didn’t make any recommendations to speed up this stage of the lifecycle other than to improve data quality to enable better decision-making. 

‘Regarding decision-making, the report is silent on inherent issues with how HM Treasury Greenbook appraises the economic value of infrastructure, which favour projects in the South (and especially those in proximity to London) over those in the North and the devolved Nations. Perhaps, another missed opportunity to consider how infrastructure can re-balance the UK economy and deal with congestion at the same time? 

‘The assessment does seek to address the National Audit Office’s concern that there has not been a clear-sighted value for money review of privately funded schemes -  offering a framework for a robust comparative evaluation of privately financed vs traditional procurement. If done well, this will facilitate a more effective debate on the public-private partnership model and could lead to more projects.

‘To see an acknowledgement of capability issues and the need for a strategic plan to build skills and expertise in the public and private sectors required to deliver on the ambitious plans is a step forward. But it is disappointing that the Commission didn’t use this as an opportunity to take stock and assess the current level of capability; evaluate the nature and areas of shortfalls; and highlight the impact this has on restricting progress. Without knowing the extent of the skills gap, it makes it difficult to assess whether the plan of action is actually achievable.’

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