Many of us rely on roads, railways and runways each year to head off on summer holidays at home or abroad.
Transport networks should keep the economy moving, driving growth and productivity. But with delays and disruption over the summer, transport has been back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This weighs heavily not only on quality of life, but on regional economies, of which infrastructure is, quite simply, the lifeblood.
Poor infrastructure is taking a toll on national performance, and on the UK's national reputation. After decades of under-investment, the quality of transport has fallen far behind that of the UK's competitors. Even though the government is now investing record amounts to catch up – and has committed to developing major projects such as HS2 and the new runway at Heathrow – the World Economic Forum ranks the UK 27th in the world for the quality of our infrastructure. That’s behind Azerbaijan, Estonia and Malaysia, whilst Germany pulls ahead into 12th place, and Japan into 6th.
So what stops the UK from making faster progress and bringing much-needed investment to infrastructure across the country? For CBI members, it comes down to overly complex decision-making and uncertainty about how to get backing for the most important projects.
At the CBI, we have been working on a new report on how decision-making and delivery can be improved to ensure that every, region across England gets the infrastructure it needs to thrive, capitalise on successes and boost productivity. Following discussions with a wide range of businesses and transport organisations across the country, the CBI has a clear list of actions we want to see government take to create a policy environment that turns plans into action.
Firstly, firms want more funding for local infrastructure in government’s upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review. That will send a clear signal that the issue is taken seriously, and that local concerns are being heeded in the corridors of central power. And having fewer, more impactful spending pots for local transport investment would change the way decisions are made and lead to spades actually hitting the ground.
Secondly, where it’s central government that holds the purse strings on projects, there must be a clearer link between regional growth and decisions that are taken, with sub-national transport bodies (STBs), such as Transport for the North using their regional voice to steer the delivery of our priorities. All parts of the country should be covered by an influential STB with clear powers to drive forward projects that matter most to the local economy.
Thirdly, there must be clarity on the opportunities of devolution and increased local decision making for all parts of the country. Local leaders and government should work together to make sure that no region misses out on the opportunities in infrastructure and other areas that will come from devolution.
If the UK can achieve these things, the nation can avoid the risk of some regions accelerating ahead of others, and of creating a two-speed England.
At the moment, when Britain focuses on being an outward-looking, trading nation, the country needs world-beating regional infrastructure that unlocks productivity and makes Britain the envy of its competitors. Business and transport organisations will be the first to work with government to achieve this.