MPs have savaged the government for embarking on a series of high-profile infrastructure schemes, such as new nuclear build, without any coherent engineering policy.
According to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committe of MPs in its report ‘Engineering: turning ideas into reality’, published today, the government lacks the expertise to: “exploit fully the UK’s world-class engineering base,” has failed to take advice, and lacks detailed strategic planning for its engineering policy.
The report reads: “We have found engineering to be one of the UK’s great strengths and were pleased to discover that UK engineering and engineers are highly regarded internationally, more than they are at home. We are convinced that the strength of the UK’s engineering base means that the UK can play a major part in solving global problems such as climate change, food and water supply, energy security and economic instability.”
However, the committee said severe skills shortages meant infrastructure plans, such as to build new nuclear power stations within ten years, could be scuppered.
Committe chair Phil Willis MP, said: “Engineering is one of the UK’s great strengths. While we’ve been critical about aspects of Government policy and called for significant changes to be made, we should not forget the positives.
“Our engineering research base is one of the best in the world and our engineers continue to be sought after to lead on prestigious global projects.
“The Government is making efforts to improve the recognition of the engineering community. And it has become clear to us just how vital the contribution of the engineering community is to tackling the global challenges we face.”
The committee made 56 comclusions and recommendations in total, including:
- More trained and experienced engineers are needed at all levels of the civil service.
- Many officials lack knowledge of the sector to decide who to seek advice from and when to ask for it.
- The Committee was “shocked” to discover that engineering advice was absent, or barely featured, in the formulation of policy for: eco-towns; renewable energy and large IT projects.
- Engineering advice should be sought early, before policy is agreed.
- Each major engineering project should have a detailed roadmap as a matter of course.
- Wider use by departments of the Science and Engineering Fast Stream is also required, and training should be prioritised to ensure civil servants know when to seek engineering advice.
- Better management of engineering policy is needed across government departments. The Committee recommends a reorganisation of advisory structures, including the creation of a Government Chief Engineer.
The report went on to suggest that the Government would be “negligent” not to consider the potential of geo-engineering technologies as a ‘plan B’ to the ‘plan A’ of mitigation and adaptation, and called for the government to make a clarification on this matter.
Finally, the committee proposed revising support for new and innovative industries, such as plastic electronics, in order to exploit the potential for economic return.
ICE’s director general Tom Foulkes said the report had: “Identified many significant issues. In particular ICE is pleased to see a call for more engineering expertise within the civil service.
“Without engineers infrastructure can neither be built nor maintained. That is why we have long called for the creation of the post of Chief Engineering Adviser, and we are delighted that the select committee is recommending that government should make this appointment.
“It is also heartening to see the committee recommending that engineering advice should be sought at the start of the policy-making process. In vital areas such as transport, energy, water and waste, seeking engineering advice only once policy has been set, leads to missed opportunities and extra costs.
“The proposed “road map” for all major engineering projects is another initiative that should be pursued vigorously by the government. Defining what skills are required over time, where capacity will be needed, sorting procurement issues and outlining who is responsible for delivering which parts of the map will ensure major projects are able to be delivered successfully.
“ICE is keen work with all other engineering bodies, coordinated by the RAE, to present a united front to government which enables our skills and knowledge to be communicated effectively.”