An independent specialist body to provide strategic long-term infrastructure advice is considered pivotal to effectively delivering Scotland’s inclusive, net-zero carbon economy, according to a final report by the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) presented to the Scottish government today. (27 July 2020).
Enshrining the place principle and implementing a 'one public sector approach' to planning and developing sustainable places are also key recommendations in the report. The establishment of a Construction Accord, to strengthen the future relationship between the public sector and the construction industry, is another vital recommendation in the commission’s report.
The ICS’s report, ‘Delivery Findings – A blueprint for Scotland’ builds on the ICS’s initial ‘Key Findings’ report published in January 2020 and follows a further period of extensive stakeholder engagement, both pre and during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its focus remains the delivery of an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy, the importance of which has only been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic.
To achieve this, the ICS recommends that by early 2021 an independent specialist body be given the responsibility by Scottish government to help prioritise the infrastructure needed to enable an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy and to develop a 30-year infrastructure strategy that is reinforced by a long-term needs assessment.
The independent organisation would sit outside the political decision-making system to enable it to operate in an arms-length and transparent way – one that builds confidence across the public and private sectors as well as society and the general public. This would allow the body to challenge government while also undertaking tactical public engagement to inform the long-term strategy.
The ICS also recognises the importance of a thriving construction sector being vital for the successful delivery of Scotland’s long-term infrastructure requirements.
As part of this, the ICS recommends that by early 2021, Scottish government and the Construction Scotland Leadership Group should create a Construction Accord. This would underline the vision and set a commitment to improve conditions that support a high performing construction sector. It would include measures to improve the capacity, capability and diversity of the workforce at all levels with a heavy focus on skills development, training requirements and career prospects for those working in the sector.
Ian Russell, chair of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, said: “Infrastructure has a vital role to play in the delivery of an inclusive, net zero carbon economy and Covid-19 has amplified the need for urgent action and change for economic, social and natural infrastructure.
“The commission is recommending that an independent, specialist body be given responsibility for providing government with strategic, long-term infrastructure advice and enshrining the place principle within planning practice. Collaboration between the public sector and the construction industry is crucial and therefore establishing a construction accord between the public sector and the construction industry is another vital recommendation in the commission’s report.”
Other recommendations in the report include harnessing a heightened focus on digital technology. Recognising the critical and increasing importance of high-quality data to infrastructure assets of all types, the ICS advises that a digital data coordination, standards and facilitation role is established by the end of 2021 to support the efficient and innovative development and use of data for the infrastructure sector.
The ICS, which was established in early 2019 to develop Scotland’s infrastructure strategy for the next 30 years, recognised net zero carbon and an inclusive growth economy as two overarching policies that were priorities on both a national and global scale. As such, these priorities were placed at the heart of its work and mark a sharp shift from the broad aim of overall policy convention to maximise GDP over the last 50 years.
The commission was asked to provide advice to ministers on the possible creation of a Scottish National Infrastructure Company. After careful consideration, the commission has concluded from its work that none of the outcomes of its recommendations would be enhanced by creation of such a company.
Speaking to Infrastructure Intelligence, Russell outlined why any new independent specialist body needed legal and constitutional powers to continue influencing government policy: “Two key drivers of the Scottish government are the enabling of an inclusive economy and achieving net zero,” said Russell. “Our report shows that an inclusive net zero carbon economy can be supported by infrastructure – not just economic, but also social infrastructure and natural infrastructure – so I think there are good reasons for that recommendation.”
Talking about adding the positive impacts of social value into a new construction accord, Russell said: “Many people have different views as to what social value means. What we’re looking for overall is a relationship that takes account of more than just price. Using New Zealand as an example - their needs are similar to ours, with the need for affordable housing, green buildings and a skilled workforce - they’ve worked together in the way we’re recommending here and you could describe that as adding social value. But, more generally, it’s taking account of more than just price. It’s more than just transactional.”
Scottish cabinet secretary for infrastructure, Michael Matheson, said: “I am grateful to the Infrastructure Commission for their hard work. We shall now take time to consider its findings very carefully. The commission’s Phase 1 report has already helped to shape our next five- year Infrastructure Investment Plan, details of which I look forward to announcing in September. This plan will incorporate a response to the commission’s Phase 1 findings.”