Manufacturers call for permanent infrastructure authority

18 August 2014
By Edd Gent
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"Political prevarication and policy reversal" are a major roadblock to infrastructure planning, says EEF

A permanent infrastructure authority is vital to improve long-term strategic planning of key transport and energy projects, according to manufacturers.

In a new paper published today the EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, has called for a new body to end what it calls “decades of political wrangling and poor planning” when it comes to maintaining and improving the country’s roads, rail links, airport capacity and energy sector.

Currently the UK lacks the institutional framework to identify, plan and deliver major projects, according to the report, which results in projects being identified too late for a proper assessment or public debate, leading to infrastructure projects being forced through with desperate necessity and the associated high costs associated of such an approach.

EEF business environment policy adviser Chris Richards, said: “Political prevarication and policy reversals have left Britain in the slow lane in developing its infrastructure for decades.

“The neglect of our roads, the indecision on expanding airport capacity and, the agonising over high speed rail routes connecting our major cities have only served to exacerbate the feeling that Britain’s infrastructure is not geared up to support growth.

“We now have the opportunity to put in place a new independent system that will aid long-term planning supporting more of a consensus based approach in identifying future needs. All political parties need to commit to this in their forthcoming manifestos.

“In a nutshell, a UK Infrastructure Authority would add value by horizon scanning for future challenges, and ensuring debates are backed by trusted analysis.”

The proposal would see the creation of a single UK Infrastructure Authority  similar to other independent government institutions such as the UK Statistics Authority, Committee on Climate Change, Airports Commission and Office for Budget Responsibility.

The body would be set up as a Non-Ministerial Government Department – allowing it to maintain impartiality, while also having the flexibility to work across Government – with a parent board accountable to parliament.

Every five years, the authority will be tasked with developing a new National Infrastructure Assessment which would look ahead at the country’s infrastructure needs over a ten, twenty and fifty year horizon at both national and regional levels to identify future challenges and trends and outline when decisions will need to be made.

The public, businesses, political parties and others will then be consulted on the long term assessments and invited to submit their own ideas for projects before a final decision is made by the Government of the day, underpinned by independent analysis from the authority.

The EEF suggest that the authority would also be tasked with providing an annual progress report to Parliament that would show what progress is being made in the development of infrastructure projects and concepts, and highlight the viability of solutions which may have been proposed.

Crucially, the EEF says the proposals it would facilitate greater consensus on the most important infrastructure challenges of the future and minimise the stop start approach to project development.

A Treasury spokesperson said: "The Government's National Infrastructure Plan is designed to deliver the world class infrastructure the UK needs to compete. It is a key part of the Government's long term economic plan with the Government investing in infrastructure around the country to create a more balanced, resilient economy.

"This year over 200 new projects worth an estimated £36bn are due to start, creating thousands of jobs, securing future growth and delivering the world class infrastructure Britain deserves."

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