The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for ACE. We have developed some very interesting papers on the needs of our industry. We have met with MPs from all parties to discuss the future. Our benchmarking process has been completed, as has our most recent State of Business study. And on top of all that we have seen a remarkable meeting of FIDIC in New Delhi.
Amid all of that I would like to congratulate Geoff French on becoming president elect of FIDIC (article page 10). Geoff was vice president going into the meeting at Delhi. I think it is a wonderful reflection of British engineering’s international standing that the next president will come from these shores.
FIDIC itself was an excellent chance to talk about some of the big issues the industry faces around the world. There were talks about integrity and quality within our sector. With the Commonwealth Games being prepared for while we were in town, we were given a strong display of what can go wrong, especially where the weather intervenes.
People were very aware that the global economy has had a hard time. But there are bright points such as the ongoing development of China and India. Infrastructure in the two largest countries in the world is advancing quickly, and the Delhi metro and the new airport are two remarkable examples of that.
Good infrastructure is crucial to developing strong manufacturing and service sectors in the UK too, be it roads, rail, airports or telecommunications.
With that in mind, ACE is pleased to have published its largest ever policy paper, entitled “Infrastructure: a case for funding”. This paper looks at a wide range of infrastructure projects and issues that arise. Rather than make the case for where funding should come from, it focuses on the economic case for funding by whatever means is appropriate.
The paper concludes that, where the right projects are chosen, there is a strong economic benefit to infrastructure investment. That case goes wider than the financial return to those directly involved in the investment. But the projects analysed send the same message: the UK can gain a premium from investments in the most valuable infrastructure improvements.
This message and the analysis behind it is important as the UK looks to rebalance its economy. The government is keen to reduce the deficit quickly while rebalancing the economy towards the private sector. So, where private sector funding can be harnessed, the case for investment is strong and can play a big part in strengthening our economy. That also re-makes the case for consistent approaches for assessing investment decisions and selecting which projects should go ahead.
Another paper, a survey of private business commissioned jointly with CECA, found strong evidence of much wider concerns about infrastructure. Respondents reported a surprisingly strong view that UK infrastructure hinders business growth and efficiency and needs to be improved.
Feedback like that, coming from outside our sector, only goes to support what our members have been saying for some time. But it isn’t engineers who need to be convinced. We need to make sure that decision-makers, be they politicians or investors, take the message on board.
To that end ACE took part in joint receptions at all three party conferences this year. We were lucky enough to have the Business Secretary Vince Cable speak at our Liberal Democrat event. He agreed with the need for investment in infrastructure, though we should not under-estimate the pressure on public finances at the moment.
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