Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) chief executive Hannah Vickers warmly welcomed Rishi Sunak’s first budget, describing the government’s pledges on infrastructure as an “historically huge commitment” and a recognition of the key role of infrastructure in driving economic growth.
Responding to the chancellor’s budget speech today, Vickers said: “With infrastructure investment now totalling more than £600bn over the next five years, or around 3% of GDP, the headline takeaway figures are great news for society, our members and wider industry. The numbers exceed ACE’s election manifesto calls and also the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendations. There is no doubt that this is an historically huge commitment to investment in the future of our country and recognition of infrastructure’s vital role in driving long-term economic growth.”
Vickers said that ACE members were standing ready to work in partnership with the government to deliver on their commitment through its pledge of £75m to scale up and invest in the sector’s capability through ACE’s Future of Consultancy programme. However, she warned that despite the good news in the budget it was tangible outcomes that the industry needed to see.
“The recent legal decision on Heathrow’s expansion is a timely reminder that delivery is about outcomes as much as investment,” said Vickers. “We need a clear policy direction on what this will deliver for society and the environment and hope to see more details in the upcoming National Infrastructure Strategy on how infrastructure investment will meet society’s net zero ambitions. The two simply cannot be mutually exclusive and we hold the engineering and technical expertise to unlock this challenge,” she said.
On coronavirus, Vickers said that all business, especially SMEs, will be delighted to see a suite of temporary, timely and targeted responses to deal with the disruptive economic impact of the virus via the tax and lending policies set out. “The chancellor’s promise that the government would be flexible and ready to do more if required will also be welcomed by everyone,” she said.
ACE also welcomed the extra funding allocated to devolved governments, announcements of a new metro-region in West Yorkshire and more than £4.2bn allocated to regional transport bodies to devolve both funding and decision making closer to local communities. “This government has gone a long way to matching rhetoric on “levelling up” the country with tangible action and our members will look forward to supporting city leaders in delivering,” Vickers said.
On transport, Vickers said: “With over 4,000 miles of strategic road and motorway schemes worth £27bn announced, the budget has exceeded the expectations of our own manifesto. In order to help the road network on the road to a greener future, the £500m announcement of a rapid electric vehicle charging network is also welcome. We hope that the anticipated National Infrastructure Strategy later in the year strategically links these announcements to others in the energy and housing sectors.”
On housing, Vickers welcomed the proposed reforms on planning and also the extension of the affordable homes programme to £12.2bn and she also praised the government for doing the right thing and announcing a fund to remove flammable cladding from buildings.
On research, skills, innovation and productivity, Vickers said she was delighted to see positive news on R&D, notably the increase in investment to £22bn a year and the announcement of a new ‘blue skies’ research agency. “We look forward to continuing discussions with government on our proposals for the next phase of our Future of Consultancy campaign, the Consultancy Sector Futures Institute,” she said. “This will turn cutting-edge research into applicable innovation, helping our industry and clients to prosper in a rapidly changing world,” said Vickers.