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NAO chief highlights Brexit infrastructure risk

Civil engineering, EU

The National Audit Office (NAO) comptroller and auditor general has warned that leaving the European Union (EU) may leave major infrastructure projects in doubt.

Sir Amyas Morse has said that the civil service is already overstretched and Brexit will remove resources from Whitehall as personnel are pulled away to deal with the withdrawal.

“We need to ask ourselves, can the public sector deliver Hinckley Point C, a third runway, HS2, a northern power house, nuclear decommissioning, Trident renewal and restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster all at the same time?” he said.

“All these projects are drawing on the same pool of skills and many of these contain optimism bias that they will be able to meet their skill needs at an appropriate cost.

“Having taken the decision, Brexit brings with it a completely new layer of unknowns and requirements. It will be a major upheaval for the public sector for years to come and it can fairly be described as an ‘abnormal challenge’,” added Morse.

In response, head of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) Marie-Claude Hemming said: “This is not the time to take our foot off the pedal when it comes to major infrastructure projects. 

“Investment in infrastructure is a proven driver of economic growth. Due to the uncertainty facing the UK economy over the implications of Brexit, the Government must ensure that investment in major infrastructure goes ahead.

“Some of the projects that Sir Amyas has mentioned are, in any case, being delivered by the private sector, but those that require public investment are vital to the UK’s long-term economic security. 

“It is of course sensible that the new Government takes a measured approach to public spending in the new economic climate. However, to turn off the taps now when it comes to major infrastructure would be self-defeating, if the priority is to build a secure future for the British economy outside the European Union.”

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