The Autumn Statement: industry highlights

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement includes a series of measures and investments in the infrastructure sector, including roads, rail, flood defences and science.

George Osborne announced that £15bn will go towards railway, transport and commuter infrastructure by the end of the decade.

“Our roads have suffered from under-investment, so I’m particularly delighted to be able to announce this expansive range of new road schemes today,” said Danny Alexander, chair of the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee.

Although the plan to triple levels of spending to increase England’s road infrastructure by 2020 was well received, the engineering community highlighted a critical skills gap that needs to be addressed.

“We must also ensure that we are training the right number of engineers who will be required to deliver the plans announced by the Chancellor,” explained Philip Greenish CBE, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Academy estimates that the UK needs to train 75,000 professional engineers every year to 2020, where we currently create only 22,000 graduates.

“Only significant investment in higher education will unlock the engineering talent that the UK economy needs to succeed.”

The Chancellor has also expressed his intention of creating a northern economic “powerhouse”, by replacing the existing rolling stock, which is “ancient and unpopular”, with new vehicles on the Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine Route.

“The welcome announcement of electrification for the main Trans-Pennine rail route strongly highlights the urgent requirement for a comprehensive re-statement of government rail policy,” said Jeremy Acklam of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The IET also warned that that all UK infrastructure needs to be designed as part of a single ‘system-of-systems’ so that they support and enhance each other.

According to the Treasury, more than 1,400 flood defence projects are to receive funding to protect over 300,000 homes, amounting to £2.3bn. This will ensure that the UK is prepared to meet future climate challenges.  

In this Autumn Statement, science was singled out as the Chancellor’s top priority with Osborne pledging to spend the £1.1bn per year in science capital on new facilities and research centres from 2016.

“The problem here is that the Chancellor’s welcome words are not always matched by actions across government,” said Dr Sarah Main, director of Campaign for Science and Engineering.

“If the government would commit to ring-fencing the science budget in real terms, matching capital investment with resource so that new facilities can be run well, and setting a trajectory for investment in science above growth, we would see a real transformation in the UK’s fortunes and future prospects.”

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