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Budget boost for maintenance is critical for growth

“Boosting investment in maintenance and renewal must become a priority for government across infrastructure.”

As we approach George Osborne’s crucial budget speech next week, there is a clear head of steam building behind calls for public investment in infrastructure.

Certainly there are many in government - not least business secretary Vince Cable - now talking about the need for a change in tack to stimulate the economy.

This week employers body the CBI sounded its loud pre-Budget call for £2.2bn to be diverted into so-called “high-growth spending” to underpin what it described as “getting Britain building infrastructure now and in the future”.

As the CBI puts it: “There is a strong case for focusing political capital and funding on a select number of high profile, high impact projects.”

Yet at the heart of the CBI’s demands, alongside the need to fast track new road schemes and to continue work to smooth the planning process, is a call to boost investment in road repair, maintenance and improvement.

Take a quick glance at this week’s annual road condition survey report by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) and it is not hard to understand why. The report highlights woeful neglect of the nation’s local road network. It estimates that it will take £10.5bn and 12 years to clear the backlog of work and return local roads to a reasonable condition.

The AIA points out that every year we spend £829M too little maintaining our local roads and that as a consequence have to pay - waste - £32M in compensation claims for damage to vehicles, and pay - waste - £113M filling 2.2M potholes.

If you then factor in the need for local authorities to pay an estimated £338M bill for highway repairs caused by the recent extreme rainfall, the outlook is quite grim.

As I pointed out two weeks ago, professionalising asset management and allocating appropriate funding is the only way to move maintenance from being an afterthought to becoming a strategic driver.

While bold spending on new infrastructure is important and should be prioritised by the government as it gropes its way towards growth, in reality the real long term wins will come from making our existing overworked and under maintained infrastructure function properly.

In fact, this week’s feature focusing on the water industry in many ways underlines the benefits of a professional approach to asset management. Driven by the regulator, investment has been levered into the industry enabling engineers to manage their assets for the benefit of the customer.

Boosting investment in maintenance and renewal must become a priority for government across infrastructure.

Only then will we attract the best skills and most innovative engineering ideas needed to close the asset funding gap and secure a network to underpin growth.

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