was delighted to launch our latest research, The social benefits of infrastructure investment, earlier in December. It’s a report I’ve been wanting to produce for a while because I believe that the social impact of investment in housing, transport, energy or bridging the rural/urban divide is still to be effectively articulated by our industry.
Here at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), the representative body for companies who work day-to-day to deliver, upgrade, and maintain the country’s infrastructure, we’re as guilty as anyone else of highlighting the big numbers – the billions of pounds spent, the millions of litres of concrete, the hundreds of miles of motorway, or the billions of economic activity that an infrastructure project generates.
But the reality is that infrastructure is intrinsically social – it creates opportunities for people to get on the housing ladder, to be better connected to friends and family and it helps to nurture vibrant local communities across the country. More than the numbers, it provides a social good delivering quality of life, health and wellbeing.
We wanted our report to provide a fresh look at infrastructure and in doing so, a fresh understanding of why we need to build. Alongside the concept that infrastructure is essential to creating a strong and prosperous economy, we also need to be saying that it improves people’s lives. To help us to do so effectively, we have called on the government to establish and champion a new national framework for the measurement of social benefit.
Furthermore, by looking at the social impacts of infrastructure alongside the financial, we should be able to find new ways of working which ensure that major projects deliver benefits to communities across the country, and not just where they are based. For example, logistics and manufacturing hubs could be placed in former industrial towns and cities, creating new heartlands that support multiple infrastructure projects, create jobs, and help to rebalance the economy. Given the wider trend to offsite and modular construction, this is no longer a pipe-dream, but a realistic proposition.
One thing is certain, we will need the entire supply chain to look at infrastructure in a new light. As well as contractors, architects, engineers and consultants will need to think of our infrastructure in a new and different way.
To encourage and lead this new way of thinking, the Government should lead by example. Which is why we’ve called on them to not only maintain their commitment to 1.2% of GDP on infrastructure investment, as outlined by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), but examine the case for increasing the ceiling to deliver increased social value too.