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Subjective argument is key to judging the facts

Comment

This week's decision by the prime minister to hold an inquiry into the intelligence that led Britain into the recent war with Iraq underlines the total reliance that government places on the expert advisors around it.

While facts are always vital in any decision making process, it is clear that with complex decisions on national policy it is the subjective analysis that usually swings the balance.

The process is no different when government makes decisions on transport and infrastructure spending. The numerous - and often conflicting - facts are brought to the table and the best subjective arguments win the day.

This is a simplistic view of what happens, of course, but if civil engineers are to make an impact on the decisions being made by the government, we must not be afraid to get involved with the important subjective parts of the debate. Even if this requires us to stick out our necks and make demands from time to time.

This was the theory that prompted NCE to launch its Stop the Transport Cuts campaign last month. While it is clear that there is a multitude of vitally important schemes on the stocks that offer great factual cases for funding, what is needed is 'unequivocal subjective evidence' that the nation can't do without them.

But which schemes first?

Having given a few dozen examples - all vital in one way or another - we fully anticipated that NCE readers would be able to come forward with their own personal favourite 'must have' projects. And as you can read this week, you have not let us down.

So does this process really take us forward? After all, any fool inside or outside government can come up with a list - in fact they already have. Do we really have anything other than just an even longer wish list of 'vital' projects?

Well no is the answer of course, not if we leave it at that. This list does have the benefit of coming from the people that really know about the infrastructure needs of the nation - civil engineers - but it is a great starting point.

As the UK and US intelligence services found with Iraq, there is always a multitude of good factual reasons for taking action and a multitude of fronts on which to take it.

What we have to find and focus on are the key arguments and projects that make government action not just vital but irresponsible if it fails.

So over the next few weeks we will be refining our list - your list in fact - and putting together the 'killer arguments' that government should not be able to ignore. So if your pet project isn't on the list make it known now or miss the boat.

Fortunately we have a huge advantage over the intelligence services in that if the wrong schemes are promoted or the wrong actions advised world peace is unlikely to be put in jeopardy. But with the need to keep the British economy moving, decisions on infrastructure investment are still important.

Yet on this basis it must surely be worth taking on and honing our subjectivity.

For the government right now we could well provide just the low risk - high return policies that it needs to boost public confidence in the post Hutton months ahead.

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