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Look in the engineer's toolkit for political answers

As we move towards the chancellor of the exchequer’s Autumn statement next week, it is significant and heartening to see so many senior politicians suddenly throw weight behind infrastructure investment as the solution to the nation’s economic woes.

New awards, hopefully new recognition

Notable at the head of this queue is prime minister David Cameron. It is perhaps worth repeating his message to the Confederation of British Industry this week to emphasise the point: “You have called for us to get out there and start getting the infrastructure built that is essential to secure the strength of our economy,” he said.

“Next week the chancellor will be setting out the next stage of our plan to transform the nation’s infrastructure,” he added. “Not with more government borrowing, but by using all the other tools at the government’s disposal to take a more strategic and proactive approach to infrastructure.”

His comments come on the back of similar enthusiasm earlier in the week when he helped to launch the new Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) Queen Elizabeth Award.

“We don’t do enough to recognise engineering,” he said. “Our engineers changed the world and their brilliant successors today are still doing just that.”

Cameron stood shoulder to shoulder at the RAE launch with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and leader of the opposition Ed Miliband. A rare moment to see all three of the nation’s top politicians putting senior cross-party support behind engineering.

Rare but not unprecedented. Because the week before we saw just such cross-party support metered out for the High Speed Two project from the big political guns that make up the influential transport select committee.

“A clear message is indeed going out to George Osborne − he ignores the value of Treasury commitment to long term infrastructure projects at his peril”

And 18 months before that, Crossrail survived a General Election and change in government, thanks to the polarity of thinking around the value of infrastructure.

Back to this week, and London mayor Boris Johnson has weighed in to underline his support for multi-billion pound proposals for investment, this time for a new hub airport for the capital. “It is time for our government to look at these proposals and to take them up and to act,” he said. “I don’t think that we can afford to wait.”

A clear message is indeed going out to George Osborne − he ignores the value of Treasury commitment to long term infrastructure projects at his peril.

No one can suggest that steering a multibillion pound project idea along the complex path towards reality is easy. But what we are increasingly hearing is that politically, economically and socially, it is now worth raking through the government’s toolbox to make it happen.

We can only wait to see what “strategic and proactive” bits of kit Osborne can find.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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