The UK’s infrastructure is improving, but the focus should now be on delivery, according to the CBI/Aecom annual infrastructure survey.
The survey was carried out in July this year by employers body CBI and consultant Aecom, and has collected information from 728 businesses around the UK.
Among the findings it says that almost half of firms (44%) believed the UK’s infrastructure had improved over the past five years, but only a quarter (27%) thought it would pick up in the next five years. Two thirds (64%) suspected it would hamper the country’s international competitiveness in the coming decades.
Delivery of key projects already in the pipeline emerged as the top priority. Ranked highly was the delivery of £38bn of investment in the rail network through control period 5 (99% of respondents), and £15bn of investment in the UK’s motorways and A-roads through the Road Investment Strategy (97% of respondents). The delivery of a new runway in the south east (85%) and High Speed 2 (80%) were also high on the agenda.
The findings show that the government’s recent track record had been encouraging for firms. Infrastructure has become a core part of the country’s long-term economic agenda since 2010, and 42% of firms saw the policies undertaken since the start of the 2015 Parliament – like the creation of Transport for the North – as positive steps.
However, confidence that overall infrastructure would improve in the coming five years has fallen 16 percentage points since the 2015 survey (from 43% to 27%). The survey found that a significant majority of firms were not optimistic that infrastructure in aviation (74%), energy (73%) and roads (69%) would improve, with only digital bucking the trend (59% of companies expect improvements in this area).
According to the survey, the majority (64%) of firms felt that the UK was unlikely to be more internationally competitive in 2050 than it is now, and 46% were dissatisfied with the current state of their local infrastructure.
“Firms have given the government a good report card on infrastructure, and are pleased with its commitment in recent years to put infrastructure at the heart of its long-term economic agenda,” said CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn.
“But announcements and commitments are one thing. Seeing tarmac, tracks, and super-fast internet cables being laid is another. It isn’t right that nearly one in two firms are dissatisfied with their region’s infrastructure, or that confidence in the future is running low, especially when it comes to delivery, the key piece of the infrastructure puzzle.
“So, our message is a simple one: at the end of the day, delivery is what matters.
“If we don’t get spades in the ground on existing plans, it’s clear we could put a major dent in the competitiveness of British business – and the UK itself.”
Aecom chief executive – civil infrastructure, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa Richard Robinson added: “At a time of uncertainty, clarity around infrastructure investment and delivery will boost business confidence. The UK has a long history of successful major infrastructure projects, leading the world in creating innovative new delivery models. Schemes such as Crossrail and Tideway are beacons of best practice around the globe.
“Fortunately the UK has moved on from the era of under-investment in infrastructure. Since the start of this decade we have seen a revitalised commitment to infrastructure investment and its transformative power. The focus now must be on delivery.”
Key statistics – sector by sector
Road: 97% of respondents saw the delivery of the Road Investment Strategy as important to the UK’s future economic growth, with 73% of all businesses seeing tackling congestion on the road network as either critical or important to the future operation of their business
Rail: The ability to work on the go, topped the business wish-list, with three quarters of firms (75%) saying better digital connectivity on trains was either critical or important
Energy: 66% of respondents were confident regarding the security of energy supply for the rest of this parliament, but just 27% felt the UK would take steps in this parliament to improve the longer-term outlook
Aviation: Businesses were pessimistic that the UK’s aviation connectivity would improve in the coming years – with almost three quarters (74%) seeing immediate progress unlikely
Digital: Three quarters of businesses (75%) said that UK digital networks had improved in the last five years, with a majority (59%) expecting to see this continue over the course of this parliament.