7 November 2017 | By Richard Robinson Community

Making infrastructure investment pay

Now is the time to provide clarity around infrastructure investment and accelerate action. It shouldn't be planned in a vacuum

Given the strong correlation between infrastructure investment and economic growth, it is hardly surprising that when infrastructure decisions are delayed, it is UK business and the UK economy that feels the pain.

Indeed, the overriding, and indeed unanimous, message from UK businesses and the public in this year’s CBI/AECOM Infrastructure survey is clear: more needs to be done to raise confidence and up the pace in which infrastructure is delivered.

Now is the time to provide clarity around infrastructure investment and accelerate action. Transformational infrastructure necessitates bold decisions and strong vision. And the next five years present a huge opportunity for the government to set in train a lasting legacy for future generations.  

It is also crucial that transport infrastructure is not planned in a vacuum. Housing, employment, schools and hospitals all play a vital role in ensuring the economic effectiveness of new infrastructure.

Connecting the regions

A more integrated approach to regional growth that recognises the interdependent relationship between the UK’s major cities and their regions is also needed. With around one million people commuting into and out of London every day, for example, strong economic links between industrial and learning ‘clusters’ both within and beyond the capital are essential.

Progress made in Manchester, Birmingham and other major cities illustrates how collaboration with neighbours that share economic, social, cultural and functional relationships can drive growth. But government, local authorities, developers, communities and infrastructure providers must work closely together to achieve it. And a move towards devolving and integrating transport and planning powers in England will help ensure local needs are met, with city mayors integral to decision making.

Another way to think differently about cities meeting the multiple challenges to infrastructure, planning, transport and housing is by thinking about transport first. Housing built in line with infrastructure investment and development is crucial to boosting the economy, and more sustainable, high value jobs help to turn areas into places where people want to live.

It comes back down to skills

To deliver the trajectory for growth that is so desperately needed, it is a given that we need to fill the growing skills gap. This remains a key issue that extends beyond the Brexit negotiations.

For the sake of our infrastructure, it is so important that the government, industry and schools work together to successfully tap into the engineers of the future. This is not just to deliver projects at home, but also oversees, as an outward facing industry will be the key to economic success.

As a global business, we have unparalleled access to highly skilled expertise from across Europe and the rest of the world. AECOM serves clients all over the globe from our offices in the UK. For us and for many global businesses with UK operations, guaranteeing the free movement of people across borders will be essential for the delivery of large-scale and complex infrastructure projects.

Equally important, will be the need to continue to invest in the long-term resilience of UK skills. Employing locally, upskilling domestic labour, driving improved productivity and a commitment to training can be the catalyst for job creation and economic growth post-Brexit.

Many schemes, from rail upgrades to the Thames Tideway Tunnel, draw on similar areas of the supply chain, so this must also be recognised and planned for; with more done to integrate planning and create an environment that encourages the necessary delivery models, such as joint ventures, partnerships and alliances, to help accelerate delivery.

After all, the UK does not have a monopoly on infrastructure deficit.

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