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Capacity and skills – steps forward

What progress has been made since the launch of the State of the Nation: Capacity and Skills report in 2008?

When we launched The State of the Nation: Capacity and Skills Report in early 2008, the civil engineering industry was facing tough times, with skills shortages and a lack of investment in innovation leading to diminished capacity.

The report explained how the industry’s confidence was eroded by the government’s piecemeal, stop-start approach to UK infrastructure investment and planning. Simply put, the civil engineering industry is reliant on government transparency in its infrastructure programmes.  We, in turn, can then plan for the future, developing the skills and capacity needed to deliver those future projects.

To address the issue, the report called for better visibility and reliability in government infrastructure investment planning, alongside a more collaborative approach from industry.

 After the report’s publication, we recognised that to achieve real results we had to focus on fostering a political consensus on infrastructure needs, improving industry collaboration and encouraging the government to provide clarity on forward investment programmes.  I was asked to chair a limited life steering group to coordinate the ICE’s activities in these areas.

As a result, and often in direct response to hard work by the ICE, we have seen some very positive outcomes. An all party parliamentary group for infrastructure, consisting of over 40 MPs and Lords, was formed in January this year. Chaired by Nick Raynsford MP, the group facilitates the flow of communications between the ICE, its members and the government. This is a fantastic step towards ensuring that priorities for infrastructure investment are agreed across the political spectrum, which is essential to safeguard the continuity of future programmes. 

On the industry side, we set up a Strategic Industry Forum to open another important channel of communications between the ICE and senior representatives from our industry and its clients. The forum allows the ICE to provide strategic leadership on long term issues affecting UK infrastructure development.

We commissioned quarterly surveys of public attitudes to the state of the UK’s infrastructure.  These are first steps in raising public awareness of the need for planned investment and have provided useful insights for the all party group.

We have also made positive inroads into ensuring that ICE is involved in national policy statements (NPS) from the outset. The NPS form the foundation of government policy on infrastructure, as set out by the 2008 Planning Act.  Meetings have been held between ICE panel members and the policy team, with the appropriate civil servants. As a result, we are cultivating important relationships, which will smooth the path for continued ICE participation.  For example, Sir Michael Pitt is scheduled to attend the next meeting of the Strategic Industry Forum in September to discuss the operation of the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

Perhaps the most significant result of the report is the government’s acceptance of the ICE’s recommendation for a position responsible for improving procurement practice and the visibility of UK infrastructure planning. This key requirement will be met by the new role of chief construction officer. The ICE was closely consulted on the final scope of this job.

These achievements demonstrate the effectiveness of the ICE’s reinvigorated policy and public affairs programmes. Having achieved our objectives, the steering group was disbanded, but I hope its successes are now self-sustaining and set to deliver further results in the future. 

The recent press reports of threatened cuts to infrastructure investment are a timely reminder of the importance of the ICE’s continued activities in this policy area.

  • Keith Miller was chair of the ICE’s recently disbanded capacity and skills steering group

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