“It is fantastic to see optimism returning to the market with 60% of UK consultants predicting growth in 2013”
So, as it turned out, despite much noise about construction and infrastructure being at the heart of growth plans, George Osborne gave us little to get excited about in what was universally a pretty gloomy budget last week.
While few in the world of infrastructure are publicly arguing that a £3bn boost in 2015 plus a commitment to spend £15bn over the next five years is in itself a bad thing, there is a clear feeling that a two year delay represents another missed opportunity.
As this week’s NCE Consultants File highlights, the whole industry is having to work hard, dig deep and constantly evolve to battle through what remains one of the toughest economic periods in living memory.
Successfully it must be said. But while London and the South East remains well insulated, with a number of major infrastructure and building projects driving businesses, the recession is certainly biting as you travel north and west from the capital.
Government action is needed now rather than in 2015 to turn this around. For two years we have had a national infrastructure plan setting out what is needed to drive UK economic recovery. We also know that government is looking to private companies to own and finance around 64% of the £310bn of new infrastructure planned - £257bn of which is needed by 2020.
So while £3bn is always welcome, the infrastructure context is much wider than this comparative toe in the water, and takes time to plan, design and deliver. At every step of the way there is risk to be managed.
As far as private sector investors are concerned, one of the key risks remains political, and so, realistically, the government will have to raise its game if the £3bn of public money to is to be leveraged by the private sector. It is - as NCE keeps reminding - all about making tough decisions and building
The latest Hinkley Point C decision demonstrates this well. Planning permission is one key hurdle overcome, but unless the politics of electricity market reform are sorted out, private investment will not flow.
That said, it is of course fantastic to see optimism returning to the market, with 60% of UK civil engineering consultants predicting growth in 2013 compared to last year. And it is fantastic to see a return to recruitment and to building careers, as demonstrated by our analysis this week.
But the reality is that much of this growth will continue to come from activities around the globe. Activities funded and promoted by governments and infrastructure owners that understand the value of investment in driving long term social and economic growth.
All the indications are that the UK government also understands this in principal. Yet still lacking are the bold decisions needed to help UK infrastructure professionals apply their skills in the UK. They can be taken.