UK industry chiefs’ infrastructure call

By Sandy Guthrie23 July 2014

Industry leaders in the UK are calling for a permanent and independent body to look at infrastructure products for the future.

They said they wanted to see an end to the “short-term, damaging culture which undermines business investment in Britain”.

The demand was put in a letter that was published in the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. Among the signatories were Rob Oliver, chief executive of the Construction Equipment Association; Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers; and Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Others behind the letter include senior executives from Heathrow and Gatwick airports, the executive director of policy at British Chambers of Commerce, and heads of other industry bodies.

The letter said, “The UK does not have a good track record of identifying, planning and delivering major infrastructure projects. Infrastructure to support growth is identified too late and a protracted decision-making process has led to policy reversals in key areas such as energy and transport.”

It said that with capacity constraints looming, recent governments had sought to address how projects were delivered.

“We do not, however, have the necessary structures in place to anticipate the infrastructure we will need in the future. The forthcoming manifestos of the main political parties must address this failure as forever playing ‘catch up’ does not support sustainable growth.”

It said the UK needed a permanent, independent body tasked with looking at future infrastructure requirements.

“This body would provide a trusted process through which political parties, the public, employers, unions and other stakeholders could propose potential solutions. It would also enable these proposals to be thoroughly assessed and analysed on a level, non-political, playing field.”

Such a body must be accountable to Parliament, not to government, the letter argued, to provide it with the independence necessary to produce impartial analysis.

“Crucially, however, the final decision on projects can only be taken by the government of the day,” it said.

“We all want a more productive, competitive and environmentally sustainable economy. This demands a new way of thinking about how we develop and design the world class infrastructure needed to support it,” the letter said.

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