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Take the money and run the show


Parliament breaks for summer today, and as usual it ended with a bang. The recent flurry of government publications covering spending, railways and transport has left us with much to ponder during their seven-week holiday.

NCE has been highlighting just how important this summer's announcements would be to the civil engineering profession since Christmas. We were not disappointed.

The public spending landscape has now been mapped out. We now have confirmation of where the hot areas will be and where the potential investment holes will emerge. And for the rail industry in particular, we now know who is calling the shots.

All of which is good news.

Certainly there are massive disappointments in many areas and transport infrastructure is a particularly sad story. We have no short-term commitment to deal with road congestion, with construction off-message and road charging decades away. We have no commitment on Thameslink, no support for trams, no big investment in extra north-south rail capacity and no new Mersey or Tyne crossing.

Crossrail is of course good news - it is after all number one on NCE's 'most-wanted' projects list. But the decision to push forward with a Hybrid Bill to get the long awaited scheme under way is tempered by the knowledge that around £2bn still has to be shaved off the project. Cue yet more consultation.

It is also good news that the East London Line, another vital yet quick-win scheme, is to move ahead with Ken Livingstone's Transport for London and government support. This also features prominently on NCE's hit list.

And let us not gloss over the positive action taken on the railways to put John Armitt and Network Rail at the heart of the industry with the power and cash to actually tackle the job.

At last we have a single point of control, a proper funding plan and so a chance to actually deliver the promised step change in rail performance.

Yet important though it is, transport is not the nation's only priority. And perhaps thanks to the forthcoming general election, some very serious money is now being earmarked for hospitals, schools and new homes.

With real work just about to start on these programmes there are opportunities - particularly for consultants - to gorge on. As a profession we need to embrace these sectors and work with the government to lever in private cash and maximise efficiency.

So yes, we need to learn from the past and do more to avoid future disappointment. We need to ensure that every time the government prepares to make a decision we are there at the head of the influencing queue.

There is no question that the profession is getting better and better at putting its point across and is able to influence clients towards the most appropriate infrastructure solutions.

We are where we are. There is little value in carping over past decisions. The demands on the profession are changing and it is up to us to make sure that we are ready to meet the needs of our clients - whatever they might be. Good technical solutions remain at the heart of all the nation's needs. We have the skills and cash is on the table.

The smart thing to do now is say thank you very much and get on with the mammoth tasks ahead.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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