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Government challenges industry to be more efficient to deliver UK infrastructure

The response of industry leaders from the construction and engineering sector attending the launch of the government’s £600bn infrastructure investment pipeline today could be summed up in two words "long overdue".

Key figures from across the industry gathered in their droves at the ICE in Great George Street, as the government launched its Transforming Infrastructure Performance Programme and Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy, outlining a long-term programme of infrastructure investment over the next ten years which would provide “better outcomes and better value for users”. The pipeline published by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, comes in the wake of the chancellor’s budget which pledged to make infrastructure investment as one of the industrial strategy’s cornerstones.

Many people within construction and engineering were on hand to hear first-hand from the transport secretary Chris Grayling and Andrew Jones, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, about the ten-year plan. Everyone that took the time to ask questions welcomed the announcement while reiterating how long overdue it was and the work still needed to be done. 

The need for projects to be delivered on time and on budget was repeatedly stressed throughout the launch if the UK was to improve its lagging productivity levels. Andrew Jones noted how lifting productivity growth by even one quarter of a per cent a year on a sustained basis over ten years would add £56bn to GDP. So you can see why the Transforming Infrastructure Performance Strategy is seen by government as a vital measure in ensuring major projects over the next decade are successful.

Jones added: “The construction sector faces issues such as low profit margins and lagging productivity compared to other sectors of the economy. It is vital that we address these issues if we are to deliver this investment as efficiently as possible. Our ambitious investment plans must be met with ambitious plans to modernise the way we manage and deliver major projects. Transforming Infrastructure Performance is the government’s long-term plan to change the way infrastructure is planned, procured, delivered and operated so we can make the most out of our increased investment. This government is seeking to transform the way we both deliver and use our infrastructure so we can extract the maximum possible value from our investment and so bring about real change for people, communities and our economy.”

The reason for the efficiency strategy being developed is down to a wave of transport infrastructure projects set to be completed or agreed in the coming year and stakeholders believing that opportunities can only be maximised by driving efficiency targets. 

The efficiency strategy has identified seven core challenges to deliver efficiencies: 

  • Judge strategic choice and trade-offs - based on whole life costs and wider benefits
  • Improve the way we set up our projects - to maximise value and prevent inefficiency throughout delivery
  • Create a transport infrastructure performance benchmarking forum - to share best practice and innovation
  • Establish a common approach - to estimating to improve cost confidence and assurance
  • Promote long-term, collaborative relationships - with industry to reduce transaction costs in procurement and maximise innovation
  • Challenge standards - to enable innovation and drive efficiencies
  • Exploit digital technologies and standardise our assets - to enable the adoption of best practice from the manufacturing sector, such as off-site construction

The transport secretary Chris Grayling told the room how the UK needed to build on major projects like Crossrail and how there was not a better time to be starting a career as an engineer. “It’s time to reverse the historic trend of whereby infrastructure has been undervalued and we are starting to do this with Crossrail which is the biggest project of its kind in Europe,” he added. “The project is on time and on budget and is an example of how we can deliver major projects in this country.

"This is a fantastic time to be building a career in engineering or developing new technologies. If we are to succeed, we must pursue efficiency, making sure that transport users get the best possible return on every pound we spend on our transport networks.”