The scale of the new coalition government’s public spending cuts will soon be known. It is unlikely that we will be pleasantly surprised when the detail is revealed.
For months now local authorities and central government departments have been preparing for 20% cuts in operational spending plus cuts of up to 50% in capital spending.
With very few exceptions, the reality could easily see these being even deeper. So it is clear that, for civil engineering professionals in particular, the scale of these funding cuts could well have a massive impact on our work load and activity.
Politicians will, we know, steer clear of cutting populist front line services such health, education and social services for fear of a massive public protest backlash.
It is inevitable therefore that infrastructure will be the soft silent target for public spending cuts. It means that we have to be very careful and very creative when it comes to making our case for future investment.
We have to ensure that civil engineering and public infrastructure spending is understood as not “nice to have” but integral to the recovery.
“Investing in the public transport, roads, power and water supplies of an area, government encourages the vital private investment to stimulate business.”
While it is of course vital that the government drastically reduces the spiralling public debt and tackles the public spending deficit head on, it is equally important that it does not neglect the investment required to stimulate and support the economic recovery.
And chancellor George Osborne must not forget that economic recovery, not simply making cuts, is the challenge.
In all the excitement of ripping up the last government’s spending plans he must not forget the challenge of tackling the UK’s growing unemployment and supporting our increasingly stressed local communities.
Decent modern infrastructure, the backbone of the UK’s economic recovery, is his secret weapon. We have to prove this point to the government over the next five years.
The focus of our message must be around value that infrastructure generates and the wealth creation that it enables.
It is an obvious but often overlooked fact that every person made unemployed costs the state tens of thousands a year in benefits and lost tax revenues.
“We have to demonstrate that rather than being a drain on the public coffers, infrastructure pays for itself”
We must demonstrate that by investing in the public transport, road network, power and water supplies of an area, government can not only create jobs but also encourage the vital private investment to stimulate business and the creation of jobs for the future.
Or that by supporting the fledgling markets such as renewable and low carbon energy it can kick-start a range of businesses, creating new jobs and new technologies at a stroke.
Or that by investing in the creation and sustaining of more cohesive communities it can not only create wealth but save the vast amounts currently spent tackling crime, health and social problems.
In short, we have to demonstrate that rather than being a drain on the public coffers, investment in infrastructure actually pays for itself. Do that and we’ll be pushing at an open door.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor