Finance and facilitate, fix and flourish

A facilitator, funder and bringer of certainty.  A new report conducted by Ipsos Mori and commissioned by Tarmac finds that these are the roles the construction sector wants Government to play to help us deliver the country’s biggest infrastructure projects in a generation. Jeremy Greenwood, MD of Tarmac’s Readymix business comments.

Jeremy Greenwood

The UK is at an infrastructure crossroads.  There are multiple challenges to overcome to enable the country to compete in a global marketplace and continue being one of the most attractive places in the world to invest. How can we grasp the opportunity to best build the Britain of the future, and what role does the government play?

"Perhaps the most eye-catching finding is the support for creating a new Department for Infrastructure, backed by 72% of those surveyed."

An indication of the sector’s view can be seen in Tarmac’s new Infrastructure Outlook Report, which draws together the views of 300 construction and infrastructure business leaders, surveyed by leading market research company Ipsos Mori.  

It finds that the industry seems to be in a buoyant mood, with over two thirds of respondents (68%) confident about our overall infrastructure outlook over the next 12 months.  However, that encouragingly high figure is almost matched by the proportion of participants – 66% - who say that not enough is being done to meet overall UK infrastructure requirements.

This matters at a time when we are lagging behind on key indicators of infrastructure performance. For example, the World Economic Forum ranks the UK just 29th in the world for the quality of our roads.  (If you’re interested, it’s the United Arab Emirates at number one).

So, what does the industry think should be done?

Perhaps the most eye-catching finding is the support for creating a new Department for Infrastructure, backed by 72% of those surveyed.  The reasons are many.  It’s seen as something which would join up decision making between central and local government, help deliver cost savings, and provide leadership and certainty for our sector. 

It remains to be seen whether the recently announced National Infrastructure Commission, under Lord Adonis, achieves some of this.  Will it, for example, encourage greater collaboration between private and public, clients and contractors, and at that crucial early stage in project delivery?

These themes of certainty and joining up our work come through in other report findings too.

Government involvement is seen as necessary but the right sort of involvement is vital – facilitating funding and ensuring that the delivery of new infrastructure projects can be made as smooth as possible. 

One of the biggest areas of agreement among those interviewed was that 83% want red tape to be cut.  Greater certainty about government spending – what, where, when – is demanded by 71%.  Both of these findings show how Government can help to improve the process of delivering infrastructure on a large scale.  Certainty, in particular, is critical so that construction businesses have the confidence to make long-term investment in innovation and skills.

Of course, there would be no infrastructure programme at all without money behind it.  The report highlights that more government investment in infrastructure is championed by 73% of those interviewed, but business isn’t just expecting it to be just the Government which opens its wallet.  70% also want to see more investment unlocked from the private sector. 

So, the construction industry seems settled in its view that Government has a powerful role to play in infrastructure delivery, but must direct its support, influence and budgets in a way which infrastructure business leaders think will best help our sector – as a helper, enabler and industry collaborator, not simply a bank. 

As a nation, we are on the cusp of some of the most ambitious and transformational infrastructure projects in the UK for a generation, from Crossrail to a £15bn road building programme, and there is encouraging confidence in the sector.  That optimism is fantastic, but I hope not too misplaced - we really shouldn’t stand for a situation where the world’s fifth largest economy only has the 29th best quality roads. 

The future role of government and harnessing the positive impact it can unleash will be a critical factor in determining how and if we get closer to number one.

Tarmac’s Infrastructure Outlook Report can be viewed here



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