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Investing in growth

Scotland continues to invest in its Infrastructure as this year’s Saltire Awards for Civil Engineering show. ICE Scotland interim director Jacki Bell sets out the state of the nation.

Scottish finance minister John Swinney’s recent announcement that he is transferring more than £750M into the capital investment programme will act as a lifeline for the construction and civil engineering sector in Scotland.

The economy is in a fragile state, but the Scottish National Party remains hopeful that its continued investment in infrastructure and low carbon energy will support companies and create jobs. There are early indications that their optimism could be justified. Between May and July this year, Scotland was the only part of the UK to experience falling unemployment.

Spending review

Swinney’s recent Spending Review revealed the Scottish Government’s plans to take forward a £2.5bn pipeline of projects using the non-profit distributing model as an alternative to PFI. They included major investments such as the M8 improvements, the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and Balmedie project, and the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

More recently, he has announced the go ahead of the core phase of the Clyde Fastlink in Glasgow, construction of HMP Grampian and support for the development of the V&A design centre in Dundee.

“Scotland’s existing infrastructure is ailing and while the current government’s commitment is welcome, it requires still greater investment”

Commitments to the £750M Forth Replacement Crossing, the £800M Southern General Hospital and a continued schools and affordable homes building programme were also restated.

The message is clear and is good news for us - the Government is committed to investing in infrastructure to support the economy and to work a way out of this recession, through job creation and business development.

In June this year, ICE Scotland published its Scottish Infrastructure Special 2011, an assessment of Scotland’s key assets.

Ailing infrastructure

The report found that Scotland’s existing infrastructure is ailing and while the current government’s commitment is welcome, it requires still greater investment to ensure it is fit for the 21st century.

All sectors but the water sector were given Grade C - meaning they require attention. Transport was found to be especially lacking the investment needed in its maintenance contracts, its port development and in the modal shift that is required to meet current needs and government strategy.

A similar story was described in the energy, waste, flood management and skills sectors.

The 2011 Saltire Society Awards for Civil Engineering underline the overriding reliance of our industry on public sector funding, with eight of the 14 projects entered being directly funded from the public pot.

“We can see from the Saltire Society entries that the private sector is investing in energy and improving transport links on rail and sea to support their own business aims”

The projects have provided new road, rail and water links, as well as reducing the risk of flooding to thousands of homes and businesses, and making our streets more inspirational places to be.

Their completion will lead to faster links, improvement to business and more efficient journeys for the people of Scotland, building on our national asset. They will also now need to be maintained.

Much needed projects

While the new government has found the capital to implement these much needed new projects, it must also find a method of ensuring long term commitment to the maintenance of these essential assets.

Without this, the impact of this additional spending could be exactly the opposite of that intended.

We know that there will be a further 36% cut in the capital budget between now and 2015, so there will be less of such large projects in the future.

Reliance on private sector development will increase markedly in the next few years and the government needs to ensure that it too has the right incentives to invest in the long term future of Scotland.

We can see from the Saltire Society entries that the private sector is investing in energy and improving transport links on rail and sea to support their own business aims. This will create jobs and benefit the country.

Making the most of opportunities

If we are to make the most of the opportunities we now have, we must ensure that this capital is returned within the Scottish economy.

With the UK’s increasing dependence on overseas companies to deliver our contracts, how much of this investment will be retained? If we are to stay competitive and make the most of this government’s determination to lead the world, we also need to ensure that our people, companies, processes and products are world class too.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that we provide training and development opportunities, are aware of the latest technology and techniques, and ensure that our public money is used in the most effective way.

The Scottish Government has high aspirations. Can we in Scotland meet them?

Well done to all this year’s entries, and to the winner, for delivering projects that will bring benefits for generations
to come.

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