UK infrastructure on the up, but now it’s all about delivery

Businesses have named roads, railways and runways as the government's top priorities for improvement of UK infrastructure, a study finds.

Almost half of firms (44 per cent) believe the UK infrastructure has improved over the past five years, but only a quarter (27 per cent) think it will pick up in the next five years.

Two thirds (64 per cent) suspect insufficient infrastructure will hamper the country’s international competitiveness in the coming decades, according to the 2016 CBI/AECOM Infrastructure Survey.

Delivery of key projects already in the pipeline emerge as the top priority among the 728 firms surveyed. Delivery of £38 billion of investment in the rail network through Control Period 5 (99 per cent of respondents), and £15 billion of investment in the UK’s motorways and A-roads through the Road Investment Strategy (97 per cent of respondents) rank highly, as does delivery of a new runway in the South East (85 per cent) and HS2 (80 per cent).

The government’s recent track record has encouraged firms. Infrastructure has become a core part of the country’s long-term economic agenda since 2010, and 42 per cent of firms see the policies undertaken since the start of the 2015 Parliament – like the creation of Transport for the North – as positive steps.

However, confidence that overall infrastructure will improve in the coming five years fell 16 percentage points since the 2015 Survey (from 43 per cent to 27 per cent).

A significant majority of firms are not optimistic that infrastructure in aviation (74 per cent), energy (73 per cent) and roads (69 per cent) will improve, with only digital bucking the trend (59 per cent of companies expect improvements in this area).

Moreover, the majority (64 per cent) of firms feel the UK is unlikely to be more internationally competitive in 2050 than it is now, and 46 per cent are dissatisfied with the current state of their local infrastructure.

To secure delivery of the most important projects, Britain’s biggest business group, and the global infrastructure services firm, AECOM, want to see the government reaffirm spending plans and press ahead with implementing policy decisions to ensure projects are delivered in full over the course of this parliament.

The importance of strong infrastructure

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, believes that infrastructure is a key driver of productivity and living standards, considering that businesses rely so heavily on roads, railways and runways to move their goods.

She says, ‘Announcements and commitments are one thing. Seeing tarmac, tracks, and super-fast internet cables being laid is another. It isn’t right that nearly one in two firms are dissatisfied with their region’s infrastructure, or that confidence in the future is running low, especially when it comes to delivery, the key piece of the infrastructure puzzle.

‘At the end of the day, delivery is what matters. It’s great the government is taking the decisions for our long-term future prosperity, like giving the green light to the new runway at Heathrow, Hinkley Point and improving digital connections. Businesses also need clear, deliverable timetables for action on major national projects – like Control Period 5 and the Road Investment Strategy – in order for them to act as magnets for investment, growth and jobs.’

Richard Robinson, chief executive of Civil Infrastructure at AECOM, believes that developing truly world-class UK infrastructure is of paramount importance, enabling British industry to innovate, expand and flourish, strengthening the UK’s reputation as a good place to do business.

Robinson says, ‘Fortunately we have moved on from the era of under-investment in UK infrastructure. Since the start of this decade we have seen a revitalised commitment to infrastructure investment and its transformative power. The focus now must be on delivery.’

Further reading on government spending

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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