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Viewpoint - Rosemary Beales

Infrastructure uncertainty - Contractors are left in the dark with infrastructure plans, says CECA director Rosemary Beales

How do we achieve medium-term certainty in investment in infrastructure? The last attempt by Government – supported by CECA although it was not without its flaws – was the Ten Year Plan for Transport, launched in 2000 and then ceremoniously ditched in 2004. Four years on, with contractors even more in the dark over transport infrastructure, one could conclude that the idea is less attractive than ever.

Without a doubt certainty would enable the industry to plan and to function more efficiently. There have been, over the past few years, calls by various parts of Government for the industry to become more efficient.

However, whilst contractors have more than risen to this challenge they have been let down by Government and its lack of vision. Certainty of investment and more focused procurement procedures would enable the whole of the supply chain to work in a more integrated way, innovate and enable the use of their valuable resource, people, most effectively. The industry's image, a serious issue and key to attracting good people into the industry, would also be enhanced.

The call for certainty should not be seen as "special pleading" by contractors – all parts of the construction industry are voicing a similar message and arguments against it are spurious and ill-founded.

One of the interesting facts to emerge more recently is the manner in which the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales have used decentralised powers over infrastructure and taken the step to give contractors greater certainty. By far the most interesting development has been in Northern Ireland. There, a Strategic Infrastructure Board works in partnership with industry and Government, aiming to provide much needed medium-term certainty to the major infrastructure project market to improve coordination of delivery, maximise efficiency and make the best use of resources.

Following the ICE's State of the Nation Report on Capacity and Skills on 20 May, CECA was invited by ICE to a round table discussion chaired by ICE President David Orr, with representatives from a wide range of stakeholder bodies engaged in the planning, design, construction and financing of the Nation's infrastructure. The topic of the day was "Does England need a Strategic Infrastructure Planning Body (SIPB)?"

The principle of an SIPB for England had strong underlying support but there were concerns that it might not be as effective in an economy as large as England. It was also felt that it might add another layer of bureaucracy on top of an already complex decision making structure. Fundamentally, it was agreed that support for investment from across the political spectrum is key, as well as ensuring that society recognises this need.

An SIPB might not be the answer for England, but the debate on how to provide medium-term certainty has moved to another level. CECA will be working with the ICE and with stakeholders from our industry to make sure that the Government is persuaded of the benefit of sustained investment in infrastructure.

- Rosemary Beales is CECA director

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