Just two years after the last general election, the UK is once again going to the polls. Since 2010 we have seen a greater level of appreciation for both the social and economic importance of infrastructure, alongside a corresponding increase in government spending. Yet as the UK faces the general election this June the UK stands at the crossroads; either the UK can decide to invest in social and economic infrastructure networks that can compete with emerging economies, or it can continue to underinvest and subsequently see its international competitiveness fall.
Whilst much has been achieved, there is still more to do, and as a country we need to develop greater cross party consensus on the development and implementation of large scale infrastructure projects, stabilising a pipeline of much needed infrastructure projects for years to come.
The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) as the voice of the consultancy and engineering industry working in the built environment has the following priorities within our Manifesto 2017 Engineering growth, and we encourage all to consider these issues as we approach the general election.
While the current and previous government have realised the ever-increasing challenges for transport due to population growth and increased demand, more can and must be done. Airports are maxing out capacity, and road network inefficiencies continue to cost as much as £12.2bn per year. While projects such as High Speed 2, 3 and Crossrail 2 will help, the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2016-2021 identified over £88.4bn in transport investment needed for the UK.
Within the next ten years between 10-12% of the current power generating capacity will be lost, unless approximately £112bn in investments in made. While this would account for assets ageing out of use, the challenge is also magnified by accounting for increased future demands.
Other utilities are also strained. The water industry will be investing £43bn over the next five years. And according to the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2016 report Connected Futures UK broadband lags behind Peru, Albania and Panama in terms of network access.
In ACE’s 2013 report, it was found that the UK had a "housing gap" of around £185bn or almost 900,000 homes by 2021, representing a city twice the size of Birmingham. The report also went into the impacts that current pricing, wages, and mortgages systems have on individuals. With a couple on an average wage to be saving for over 35 years to put enough aside for a 25% mortgage deposit, which inevitably has societal consequences.
While recent measures like ‘Help to Buy’ are only proving partially successful, it is clear that the most effective solution will be a place to radically increase the number of homes being built – thus ensuring enough supply for current and future generations.
In order for the government to be able to access significant sums of private finance, the UK government must ensure stability of the regulatory and funding conditions, as well as firmly commit to the much needed projects within the pipeline. With £297bn in investments required for the NIDP pipeline, it is also advisable for the government to help in building the investment capacity of alternative sources of financing, such as pension funds.
As the UK approaches a period of increased infrastructure investment alongside the continued devolution of power and delivery responsibilities, if just 5% of the total UK annual public procurement spend is spent inefficiently this equates to £11.5bn in poor investment. In order to improve efficiencies within public procurement this will require a shift in prioritisation from in out specifications towards outcomes and outputs within the procurement process, as well as further refinement of infrastructure client procurement processes.
As the UK continues to develop, there will be correlating pressures on our natural resources and ecosystems. With the UK having emitted 569 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013, rising traffic volumes impacting urban air quality, limited land available for food demand and urban sprawl, as well as the legally binding carbon budgets, the UK must reduce its emissions by approximately 80%.