Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

We must continue to invest in vital infrastructure

Continued public spending will be the UK's way out of the current economic crisis argues NCE editor Antony Oliver

This week was the shadow chancellor's moment for gloom. And as George Osborne highlighted in his speech to the Conservative conference in Birmingham, we are certainly in for a sustained period of belt tightening.
With the government rushing to shore up the banking sector and protect private savings and investments, public finances are clearly gong to be stretched.
Yet while there is no sign that public infrastructure spending plans are set to be cut, it is perhaps inevitable that we will see increasing pressure to make investments go further.
As such we must view this future "Age of Austerity", as Osborne puts it, as an age of opportunity. We must embrace the challenge of becoming more efficient and demonstrate that, in a world of ill-judged economic gambles, investment in infrastructure remains a safe bet.
Make no mistake, we absolutely must do this because the alternative will spell disaster for both civil engineering and for the UK economy.
Given the current financial turmoil there will be more than a few people in the Treasury looking closely at public investments such as the £16bn Crossrail scheme, the £6bn road spending plan and the £2bn a year spend on rail network enhancement. They will doubtless be asking "can this investment be delayed - can this investment be cut?"
We have to ensure that the answer is a resounding and clearly justified no. Having spent so long making the case for vital schemes such as these to be funded, it would be a tragedy to see them suddenly parked again.
While politically it is still perhaps a long time before the next General Election, the Conservatives were this week certainly positioning themselves as the next government. Regardless of whether David Cameron continues his eventual rise to power it is reassuring to see the Tories recognising infrastructure investment as a key economic driver.
In particular the debate sparked by Shadow transport secretary Teresa Villiers over her plans to replace Heathrow expansion with new investment in high speed rail is hugely welcome and gives us a get opportunity to enter the debate.
Regardless of where you stand on Heathrow expansion, Villiers' plan is particularly interesting because it relies on increased rail industry efficiencies for its funding. It is the kind of challenge that we should be embracing as the future - a future where greater efficiency is rewarded by greater investment.
As I pointed out last week, "robust efficient management remains key to success". If we are to ensure that major infrastructure projects are not dropped, we must be increasingly overt about how, given the need for austerity, taxpayers will benefit from their investments. It is certainly not something that we have done well in the past.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.