Positive welcome for National Infrastructure Strategy and spending review

Positive industry welcome for National Infrastructure Strategy, but calls grow for further detail on number of key issues.

Leading industry figures have broadly welcomed the chancellor’s spending review and publication of the keenly anticipated National Infrastructure Strategy today (25/11/20), which was announced in parliament as the state of the pandemic-ravaged UK economy was laid bare.

However, although the initial response has been broadly positive, some in the industry are awaiting further detail on a number of key issues before commenting on how effective the National Infrastructure Strategy is likely to be.

The following is just a taste of the initial reaction from across the industry today ….

Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “Publication of the UK’s first ever National Infrastructure Strategy is an important moment, given the vital role infrastructure can play in supporting economic recovery and growth across the whole of UK, as well as tackling climate change. We are pleased to see the government’s strategy responds closely to our own independent assessment of the country’s infrastructure needs and how to address them.”

Hannah Vickers, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), said: “Much will be made of the changes to the Green Book, which are probably more a symbolic gesture for a shift in culture, than anything else. Equally, the creation of a UK Infrastructure Bank will be welcomed, but I wonder whether the chancellor is asking the wrong question – we already have access to finance, what we are lacking is the appetite from government to deploy it and investible opportunities – so I’m unsure what problem exactly the Bank will be solving?

“We were also pleased to see the principles of the Construction Leadership Council’s proposals for a new local infrastructure fund to accelerate growth and recovery adopted. The £4bn Levelling-Up fund can potentially be a catalyst for locally-led regeneration, but we hope to see its scope expanded and capability deployed ahead of the UK Infrastructure Bank. This will ensure we maximise its potential impact on recovery, rather than focus on individual tactical project investments.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “The vision set out by the chancellor today is one in which investment in infrastructure is a key priority for delivering growth and creating jobs across all parts of the country. The creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, to be based in the north of England, will enable the strategic investment businesses and communities require. We are particularly pleased to see the creation of a specific ‘Levelling Up’ fund, which will enable local communities to bid for projects based on their own expertise and needs.”

Alex Vaughan, chief executive officer, Costain, said: “Infrastructure investment needs effective and agile governance, structure, and processes to ensure it can realise the desired economic, environmental, and social return behind the Government’s vision. However, no two areas of the UK are the same. Careful consideration of local as well as national aspirations will ensure the social, environmental and economic value of infrastructure projects delivers the government’s vision to level up, decarbonise and meaningfully improve the lives of local communities.”

Leo Quinn, Balfour Beatty group chief executive, said: "We welcome the scope and vision of the National Infrastructure Strategy. It not only provides the long-term clarity vital to protect our national capability in infrastructure and construction, but the enlarged funding is exactly what’s needed to prime the UK’s economic recovery. The focus on sustainable infrastructure is particularly key to ensuring we really do build back better and greener futures."

Andrew Davies, chief executive at Kier Group, said: “Kier welcomes the chancellor’s commitment to provide continued investment in infrastructure across the UK and particularly in geographies where it is needed most. Recognising the very difficult public spending choices the government faces this year, ambitious capital investment in the health, education, justice and defence sectors and the improvement of transport connectivity between regions presents a real opportunity to stimulate the economy and will create jobs and opportunities for businesses, large and small.”

Ben Lewis, infrastructure and energy director at Barton Willmore, said: “The UK’s first National Infrastructure Strategy has finally arrived! Was it worth the wait? It certainly says the right things – levelling up, net zero, accelerated delivery, technology and private investment are all included. There are a lot of positives to take from the strategy but there is equally a lot of content that has already been announced. Further detail is needed in key areas, the Energy White Paper and the UK Hydrogen Strategy being two. Until we have that detail, it is difficult to see how effective the National Infrastructure Strategy will be.” 

Patricia Moore, UK managing director at Turner & Townsend said: “The aim should be to ‘level up’ by ‘linking up’ – connecting communities in a way that supports jobs. In many regions there is not enough joined-up planning across highways, rail, energy and residential development. Government has placed its faith in infrastructure, but the industry is fragile. Investment needs to be made in a way that delivers economic, social and environmental value for communities, at the same time as building capacity and skills capability within the sector itself.”

Donald Morrison, people & places solutions senior vice-president Europe at Jacobs,said: “It’s good to see a long-term, sustainable, infrastructure strategy – not just for our industry, but for rebalancing the economy as a whole. Creating social value is vital for levelling up. We must attach outcome-focused goals to all infrastructure funding promises.”     

Colin Wood, AECOM's chief executive for Europe said: “Today’s speech shows the government has quite rightly recognised the important role infrastructure will play in our post-pandemic recovery, but we’re still not seeing levels of funding needed for us to truly deliver and support that recovery. Spending on health, education, defence and our transport infrastructure are of course welcome, but the funding that has been announced to date is just the beginning of the investment that is needed.”

Tom Bridges, UK cities advisory leader at Arup, said: “The publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy and creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, located in the north, are positive steps and strong signals that levelling-up and resetting country’s approach to infrastructure remains a priority. Whilst there is much to be welcomed in today’s announcement, there is now a need to develop a clear, coherent and long-term plan for levelling-up and transitioning to a green economy.”

Simon Rawlinson, head of strategic research and insight at Arcadis, said: “This is a great settlement, particularly given the pandemic has already cost the government £280bn in emergency measures this year alone. Today, we heard an expansive review committed to jobs and to investing in the future of our country. With increases in funding for priority departments, decarbonisation initiatives and long-term funding settlements for infrastructure, this was a real statement of confidence in our industry, motivated by a belief in creating jobs and driving growth across the country through investment.”

Steve Beechey, public sector director, Wates Group, said: “The chancellor’s announcement of a ‘once in a generation investment’ in infrastructure will be crucial as the country works to recover from the biggest economic contraction in the last 300 years. As a national business with a significant footprint in the north, we are also buoyed by the renewed focus on levelling up. The commitment to locate important new public bodies, like the new UK infrastructure bank, in the north, combined with the levelling up fund of £4bn should provide a much-needed boost for future investment, both public and private sector, in areas which have, at times, been overlooked in the past.”

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email