The ICE re-ignited the debate over whether the UK’s critical infrastructure networks are sufficiently safe-guarded at last week’s launch of the State of the Nation Report Defending Critical Infrastructure.
The report highlights the vulnerability of the UK’s utility networks and transport systems to disruption and failure and asserts that a single point of authority is needed to oversee the entire infrastructure network and co-ordinate resilience efforts across relevant agencies.
Over 90 senior individuals attended the launch at a breakfast briefing at One Great George Street, including representatives of the All Party Parliament Group on Infrastructure, the ICE Strategic Infrastructure Group and others from the engineering and construction industries. Stakeholders who submitted evidence to the inquiry were also present.
ICE president Jean Venables welcomed the report and its findings, saying she has been encouraged during her year in office by the work being done by civil engineers to improve the state of our critical infrastructure.
“Protecting our critical infrastructure is vital for the safety, security and comfort of all citizens of this nation. Neglecting our critical infrastructure could result in major damage to our economy, environment and at the very worst, loss of life,” said Venables.
Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure, and former construction minister Nick Raynsford welcomed the report, but said the job now was to strike a balance between delivering what was needed and looking at the cost the public is willing to pay.
He warned that it would be important to ensure that expanding regulatory bodies’ remit to encompass resilience – another recommendation in the report – did not detract from the consumer focused aspects of their work, such as consumer pricing.
Neglecting our critical infrastructure could result in major damage to our economy, environment and at the very worst, loss of life
Jean Venables, ICE president
“This is a delicate issue which has to be handled carefully,” added Raynsford.
The report, which has gained attention in national media, recommends that the newly created natural hazards team needs to be empowered to give strong leadership to asset owners. Also the planning process – directed by the Planning Act 2008 and the Infrastructure Planning Commission – needs to be monitored so that delays in nationally significant infrastructure projects are avoided.
Leader of the inquiry Alan Stilwell said the report signalled the beginning of a programme of work for the ICE, working with government and industry to progress the report recommendations.
“It has been a recurring theme in recent ICE policy work that critical infrastructure is what we need to focus on. Perhaps most importantly is the concept of connectivity – we cannot view infrastructure assets as stand alone, they form an interdependent network. Current government strategy for defending our infrastructure is compartmentalised, it is designed to protect against single failures, not network-wide disruption. We forget these interdependent relationships at our peril,” he said.
Stilwell concluded that although it is crucial that we recognise the costs of achieving these goals, we must also be aware of the costs of doing nothing at all.
“The real question is not can we afford to act on these recommendations, it is can we afford not to?” he said.
- The report can be downloaded at www.ice.org.uk/stateofthenation