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Consultants File 2010: Infrastructure rebirth

ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin says the industry must work collaboratively to take the lead on low carbon solutions, efficient construction and technical development

Our industry is operating in the wake of one of the most serious recessions for decades. Public spending and the UK’s credit rating have been major talking points, while internationally the outlook is just as difficult.

Developments in Dubai have reminded us that this is a global downturn, with knock-on effects in most countries. This year the UK will go to the polls to elect its next government.

Whatever the outcome, the future will be more challenging; the present government is committed to halving the deficit over the next four years, and the main opposition parties are also calling for cutbacks.

Association for Consultancy & Engineering (ACE) is lobbying the present government to make clear when and where cuts in public expenditure will be made: this will reassure investors and safeguard sovereign debt.

We understand that capital expenditure may have to be cut but ask the Treasury to bear in mind the need for consistency in spending and the return that investment in construction brings.

“Clients and industry must learn the lessons of the past and build a new collaborative approach to procurement.”

However, in the short term, the election means uncertainty for investors, developers and industry alike. So it is more important than ever that our industry delivers in partnership with governments, the private sector, and each other.

In its election manifesto, ACE sets out the main ways in which the engineering industry can help to boost the UK’s prospects and deliver value.

Effective infrastructure is the lifeblood of a strong economy. A long term approach to investing in the UK’s vital networks is required, and we are pleased that the National Policy Statements will provide a vision of strategic national need.

We also applaud the political consensus on the need for a more efficient planning consents system. However, without funding, projects cannot begin, which is why ACE has proposed innovative approaches to securing private sector investment.

The consultancy and engineering industry must also play its part. Which other industry is better placed to help the UK fulfil its carbon reduction ambitions? Our industry must grasp the opportunity to lead the development of low carbon infrastructure and energy efficient buildings, and to reinforce assets against climate effects.

Addressing the inefficiencies of procurement is a core response to the value agenda. Clients and industry must learn the lessons of the past and build a new collaborative approach to procurement that eliminates waste and increases returns. Trimming margins will no longer do.

“If we want to achieve a sustainable low carbon economy with consistent growth then we must engineer an infrastructure renaissance.”

We must be prepared to invest in the next generation of engineers and technical specialists who will do the work. Industry should present a positive image to prospective students to encourage them to seek rewarding careers in our industry.

Above all, industry must be prepared to work together. We have already seen more consolidation in the industry, but whether companies decide they need to join forces or not, they certainly need to work with each other on project delivery and solution design. As technical experts, we have a global responsibility to share our expertise.

This autumn, ACE will be hosting its first CEO European conference in London in collaboration with the Environmental Financial Consulting Group (EFCG) of the United States.

Bringing together business leaders from across Europe, the conference illustrates the importance of knowledge sharing, benchmarking and adopting best business practice to achieve competitive advantage. If the recession has taught us one thing, it is that there will be no return to business as usual.

Meeting the global economic and environmental challenges requires a new way of working. If we want to achieve a sustainable low carbon economy with consistent growth then we must engineer an infrastructure renaissance.

  • The ACE national conference is on 14 April. For more information please contact Mai Cheung: 020 7222 6557, email mcheung@acenet.co.uk or visit the ACE website.