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Ministry of Infrastructure idea slammed by industry

Infrastructure bw

Ministerial plans for a new a new Ministry of Infrastructure have been heavily criticised by the engineering sector.

It has been reported that ministers are looking to cut back the number of Whitehall departments. Under the proposal, three different departments - Transport, Business and Energy, and Culture Media and Sport - will all be merged to create a new super ministry.

“The track record for super-departments in Whitehall is not great,” said Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) which represents firms who together carry out an estimated 70-80 per cent of all civil engineering activity in the UK.

“You only need to look back at the old Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions, and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that replaced it to be reminded how dysfunctional and unmanageable such large bodies can become. Too many briefs spread to thinly across a small number of ministers looks like a recipe for failure”

Reisner added: “Infrastructure currently sits at the heart of government with links into HM Treasury and Cabinet Office. This proposal risks pushing it away from the centre of the government’s thinking, reverting back to the position of the mid-2000s where our infrastructure networks saw disinterest and underinvestment.”

He also questioned the idea of introducing such a plan amid uncertainty over the UK’s post-Brexit future.

Reisner said: “I do not think it would be helpful at a time when there are a lot of political pressures for there to be a shakeup of the wiring of Whitehall. What we really need is the government to focus on getting a Brexit deal.”

Meanwhile, Joe Owen, the associate director for the Institute for Government think tank, questioned the motives of those behind the plan.

“These kinds of changes are often more about Cabinet jostling and political signalling than long term planning,” he said.

John Dickie, director of policy and strategy at business group, London First, said: “There is no evidence that shifting desks adds anything to UK productivity so, instead of tinkering with departmental titles, the government needs to get on with delivering what the National Infrastructure Assessment has spelt out: we need to invest in better transport links around UK.”

He added: “The short-term impact is usually disruption and cost - moving desks, changing branding, aligning pay differentials are all expensive and have little policy benefit.”

Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss is reportedly championing the proposal, according to a report in The Sun, and in talks about it with Cabinet Office minister David Lidington - although when asked about the plans by New Civil Engineer, Treasury spokespeople declined to comment, instead referring on to Downing Street. 

Downing Street said it is not backing the plans. A Downing Street spokesperson said: “This is completely untrue, there are no plans to merge these departments.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • A Department for National Infrastructure sounds like a idea worth considering. Such a department would mean that a strategic national infrastructure plan could be established with a clear vision for how the UK's infrastructure should be developed over the next 30 years or more and which identifies the opportunities for joined-up thinking across all infrastructure sectors. Local infrastructure plans could be developed by regional bodies that meet local needs within the framework of a strategic national plan.

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