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Poor state of affairs

Comment

The NCE/ICE State of the Nation report card once again paints a pretty dismal picture of infrastructure in the UK. Certainly there are gains being made but they still remain isolated and in reality very difficult for the public to notice.

Take the rail network. The recent NCE National Rail Awards highlighted the passion, enthusiasm and talent now in the industry - and the fact that money and projects are starting to come through. Yet to the average rail user, the service is still not good enough, reliable enough or cheap enough.

Then there is the road network. It is clear that motorways and trunk roads in the UK are in a pretty decent state. Not perfect by any means - there are some particularly bad spots - but overall they are not falling apart. But to the average road user, long distance car travel equals road works, traffic jams and delay.

The list goes on. Urban development is haphazard and not being properly or carefully designed for living. The generation of power for the UK is moving towards crisis as we fail to invest in technologies to replace hydrocarbon burning and nuclear. Local public transport is the frustration of both urban and rural public.

At C minus overall, it is not a situation that we, as the professionals charged with guarding the infrastructure for life, can be proud of. As an advertisement for the profession it is certainly not the best.

We have of course very legitimate reasons for blaming the government for the current difficulties. Under-investment in virtually all the UK's infrastructure over decades and successive administrations has left us grappling around from a very low base.

Failure by the current Labour government to take the tough decisions needed to plough cash and, crucially, to raise the priority of public infrastructure has perpetuated the downward spiral. And the failure by government departments to link the impact of infrastructure on health, education and social services when creating policy leaves us too often part of the problem rather than the solution.

Yet we are still doing too little to help ourselves.

Politicians, while appreciating the good work we do, are allowed to ignore the profession's demands. The public is not being helped to appreciate even the limited successes being made in the UK's infrastructure. Young people are turned off by civil engineering as a career and existing engineers are migrating to professions with greater rewards.

The report card sets out the actions needed to turn around the UK's infrastructure. They are largely nationally focused and by no means exhaustive.

But it does give a very good snapshot of the current situation and of the actions needed to turn the situation in around.

We are sending copies to MPs, to government and to the media to highlight the problems. But if 60,000 civil engineers in the UK also sent a copy to their local MP, local councillors and local newspapers, using it to highlight local difficulties, we might start to make some impact.

Next week the political party conference season kicks off.

If you want your profession on the agenda, now is the time to get involved.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE For additional copies of the State of the Nation report card email ncereportcard@construct.emap. com or download it from www. nceplus.co.uk/magazine

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