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Now is the time to prove infrastructure's economic value

Chancellor George Osborne’s decision this week not to make any further cuts to capital spending in his budget will come as very good news to all in the civil engineering profession. We must not miss the opportunity that this presents.

While we’ve heard a great deal over the last few days and weeks about the poor state of the UK’s finances and the need to radically cut the amount that the government spends each year, we are also acutely aware that the nation simply cannot afford to allow the condition of our critical infrastructure to degrade.

As the ICE’s State of the Nation report points out this week: “The nation that neglects its infrastructure neglects its future. But the nation that respects its infrastructure, respects its people.”

And faced with some pretty serious and pressing issues such as the need to sort out the UK’s looming energy crisis, the on-going battle with deteriorating local transport networks and the need to rapidly convert to a low carbon economy, it seems the government has finally got the message.
But we must not forget that affordability remains at the heart of everything that we do. By not lopping capital spending now, government has given us a chance to show what we can do - and we must get on, but not at any cost.

“While providing the best value for client’s cash has always been important, we are now entering a new era of value management”

While providing the best value for client’s cash has always been important, we are now entering a new era of value management.

As NCE continues to remind, the future will be based around delivering more for less - that is now a given. With Osborne intent on balancing the nation’s books within six years, the future will require some considerable innovation when it comes to keeping the vital funding flowing into infrastructure.

That of course means technical innovation in new and better ways of delivering infrastructure but it will also mean innovation in the way our projects are first defined and then managed.

Because make no mistake, when James Stewart, chief executive of the Treasury- backed Infrastructure UK says he thinks UK costs are too high, it is unlikely that the response “no they are not” will suffice.

Now is the moment for us to step beyond delivering more for less and move towards delivering absolutely only what is needed, in the most effective and appropriate ways.

The good news is that the economy is now again starting to grow - albeit slightly slower than the Labour government had predicted with Osborne forecasting growth of 2.3% next year and 2.8% and 2.9% in the following years to 2014. This must give some degree of confidence that, with the right level of public investment in vital infrastructure maintained, the UK can look forward to better economic times returning swiftly.

Working closely with Infrastructure UK as it helps persuades Treasury hardliners that value can be delivered back to the public purse through investment in infrastructure, will be crucial. For our part we must embrace our responsibility to ensure that it does.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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