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Viewpoint: Starting to be heard

ICE’s Paul Jowitt on how the election manifestos reflect the Institution’s demands

Over the past two years, ICE’s public voice efforts have focused on raising awareness of the importance of infrastructure to political parties of all persuasions.

The UK’s economic growth and productivity, our transition to a low carbon economy and our quality of life all depend on high quality transport, energy, water, waste and flooding infrastructure networks.

We know that when these fail, things go wrong. It is vital that whichever party wins the General Election, they find a way of maintaining investment in vital infrastructure.

The launch of the main party election manifestos saw the fruits of the past two years’ public voice activity, with infrastructure issues featuring far more prominently on all three main parties’ agendas.

Interestingly, a comparison shows that “infrastructure” was mentioned 47 times in the last week’s manifestos
compared to just six times in the 2005 manifestos.

Each of the parties acknowledged the role extensive and reliable infrastructure will play in our economic recovery and in kick-starting a green economy.

“Infrastructure was mentioned 47 times in the last week’s manifestos compared to just six times in 2005.”

Pledges to transform our transport, water, energy and planning systems were at the heart of their manifestos alongside plans on how such ambitious visions for infrastructure could be funded.

The creation of an infrastructure investment bank or similar mechanism has been at the centre of ICE’s public voice calls. The financial crisis has placed enormous pressure on public finances − reducing the availability and increasing the cost of both private and public capital.

ICE believes a permanent funding unit could help attract the large volumes of private capital needed to ensure essential infrastructure continues to be built, without diverting money away from front line public services.

The good news is that our calls were answered with all three parties proposing some form of infrastructure funding unit, like ICE’s “National Infrastructure Investment Bank”, the holy grail of infrastructure funding units.

I am very encouraged that so many of our recommendations have been taken on board and also to see the views of the civil engineering community in national media election commentary.

“Pledges to transform our transport, water, energy and planning systems were at the heart of the manifestos.”

However, looking forward, there is more work to do and there are several areas here we hope to see the doors open to further input from independent civil engineering expertise, via ICE’s public voice remit.

Our State of the Nation report, returning to the scorecard format, will be launched in June, providing the incoming government − at national, devolved and regional levels − with an appraisal of the capability of the UK’s infrastructure in meeting the scale of the challenges that lie ahead and the key decisions government must make.

We will also keep building on existing relationships within Whitehall and the main parties to ensure that infrastructure remains high on the political agenda.

By reinforcing the importance of our infrastructure, we are in turn reinforcing the reputation and value of civil engineering to society, a core part of ICE’s purpose.

I believe now is the time to promote, encourage and nurture the engineers of today and tomorrow − to inspire them, and allow them to inspire through their passion, values and their energy.

● Paul Jowitt is ICE President

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