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We need to make the case for infrastructure now

Jockeying ahead of October’s Comprehensive Spending Review has begun with government departments and individual projects starting to make their case for continued investment.

Just how big the forthcoming public spending cuts will be has yet to be revealed. But we’re already getting the idea.

My worry is that civil engineering hasn’t really decided what its role will be in returning the UK to economic stability. I’m not sure that we are being clear or loud enough about precisely what we believe the investment priorities are.

We need to get organised and mobilised - fast. The schools building programme has already been summarily dismissed. It also looks like the brakes will be applied to rail spending and to spending on road construction and maintenance.

With the inevitable savage cuts facing local government it is clear there is work to do to make our case.

Our focus must be around our ability to design and build the vital infrastructure needed to underpin tomorrow’s low carbon, high population, sustainable economy. Infrastructure that ensures the UK works and is attractive to private investment.

We know that there is a looming energy crisis. We know that urbanisation is increasing with congestion undermining competitiveness. And we know that reducing the waste produced by society is crucial, as is using vital water supplies more efficiently.

“We have to shift our emphasis from the simple desire to build toward the more complex need to solve society’s problems”

We have therefore to focus on these key issues and make the case for investment. We have to shift our emphasis from the simple desire to build toward the more complex need to solve society’s problems.

It will not be easy, but we, more than any profession, have the talents, teams and skills to tackle such large and daunting challenges.

This weekend’s CARE International Construction Challenge in the Brecon Beacons showed just how such focused teamwork and enthusiasm can deliver.

While the NCE team wasn’t, for many reasons, exactly troubling the scorers, the level of competitiveness and sheer will to win demonstrated by the rest of the field was nothing less than astounding.

It even surprised the organisers who were more used to working with accountants and lawyers. I’ll know for next year!

It is just such commitment that will see the construction industry through the tough times ahead. Our ability to work together to solve problems and think about the bigger picture sets us apart from other professionals

Our challenge today is to provide the leadership and ideas needed to create the lower cost, lower carbon, better performing infrastructure of tomorrow. Before our less able competitors beat us to it.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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