Welcome to a new decade − whatever it’s called. The question of course is whether 2010 will turn out to be the year of opportunity or the year of despair for civil engineers. While there are no crystal balls there are a few certainties.
We know that the banking crisis hangover in the shape of a £178bn public spending deficit and eye-wateringly large public debt will be with us for much of this decade.
And we know that the forthcoming General Election will dominate the first half of 2010. Regardless of outcome, it will inevitably shape the political landscape of the next 10 years.
“Eye-wateringly large public debt will be with us for much of this decade.”
As we are already seeing in the pre-election announcements this week, whoever is in charge will find balancing the nation’s books and aspirations their biggest challenge.
There will be no easy answers. But with health, education and social policies still at the top of the agenda, what will all this political battling mean for civil engineers?
Well the public spending deficit will take years and a huge amount of public sector spending cuts to whittle away and so will have a substantial impact on the amount of cash available to maintain the national realm.
This will mean in all likelihood 20% to 30% cuts in spending on local authority highways maintenance and environmental services and similar sized cuts on national roads and delays to many other major projects.
The need to control and substantially reduce public borrowing over the next decade will also see major project investment in areas such as rail, roads, energy and flood defence deferred if not cancelled.
So big challenges ahead but it is not all gloom. There are, for example, signs that the UK will very soon emerge from recession. While this will certainly not see champagne corks popping it will at least give optimism that the controversial economic stimulus policy of investing public cash in major infrastructure projects is at last bearing fruit.
“There are signs that the UK will very soon emerge from recession.”
And the need to rein in public spending and boost the effectiveness of every public pound spent must also represent a significant opportunity for our market. No local authority or national agency can afford the status quo and all will be looking for help and ideas to deliver more with less.
Then there’s energy. Whether renewable, nuclear, clean coal or new efficient gas, there is now no doubt that this decade must see new investment and construction of generation capacity.
And as the economy recovers we should also start to see an increasing amount of private finance becoming available to invest in major infrastructure projects.
So all in all we can probably expect the next decade to be an interesting one.Whether we move forward in 2010 under Brown, Cameron or coalition, your challenge is to ensure that it is indeed also filled with great opportunity for civil engineers.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor