Interview: Amanda Clack, EY's new head of infrastructure explains the global challenge

Amanda Clack has just joined EY to lead the infrastructure advisory team and takes over next July as president of the RICS. She explains why the government's new National Infrastructure Commission is key to building certainty in the market and identifies the global challenges.

Amanda Clack, EY

Interview by Antony Oliver

What makes infrastructure such an attractive sector to work in right now?

Infrastructure, for me, has always been a fascinating sector to work in.  In fact it was the construction of the M25 motorway that got me initially interested in the world of construction.  Infrastructure is exciting because it is big – projects span multiple years or decades, have huge budgets, with complex risks that need to be managed, numerous stakeholders, require effective governance and have the capacity to directly impact the GDP of a country.  

However, I think what is truly incredible right now is the extent of the demand and associated expenditure with the infrastructure sector across the globe as countries and governments need to address the ever increasing public demand for better and more effective infrastructure to support growth.  We will see huge growth demand particularly from Asia-Pac and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Where will this growth come from?

I see this globally through three lenses:

(i) Existing Infrastructures – where countries or cities are having to invest and develop infrastructure around the existing constraints.  Examples would be London, New York or Sydney. 

(ii) Developing infrastructures – where developing countries are seeking to invest in infrastructure to help their growing or developing economy, this would be true of countries like Brazil, India and much of the African continent.  

(iii) Innovative Infrastructures – where countries are seeking to adopt and adapt the latest thinking and technology into rapidly developing cities and economies such as China, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East and parts of India. 

Globally investment in infrastructure assets is booming. What do you see as the key drivers for this growth? 

For the last year I have been chairing the Strategy Advisory Group as part of the RICS Governing Council.  We have just published this year our RICS Futures Report - "Our changing world : Let's be ready" - which is the culmination of three years of research and over 400 in-depth interviews, as well as workshops across the globe.  This report cites that there is a demand globally for over $57tn (as identified by McKinsey & Co.) to be spent in infrastructure between now and 2030.  There is huge demand in this sector at a time where public spending is still under huge pressure and scrutiny.  

The drivers for growth emulate from increasing urbanisation, we now have over 50% of global population living in cities and there is the growth of the mega-city.  Plus there is huge demand for increasing economic growth of which infrastructure is the key enabler.  

This needs to be coupled with the right enablers for that growth such as legislative, fiduciary, political, financial, and legal frameworks.

The UK government continues to invest in infrastructure as route to economic growth. What do you see as the greatest threat to delivery?

In one word – uncertainty.

We need to have certainty on many levels for successful delivery.  At all levels this is key from being clear on the programme itself, the requirements and benefits case, providing budget confidence, managing risk, having effective governance in place, helping clients to be better informed and also enhancing the delivery supply chain.  

We now have an Infrastructure Delivery Plan, but RICS has been saying for a couple of years that there is still a requirement for an Infrastructure Commission to be formed to help drive and ensure longer term thinking for the UK’s infrastructure requirements.  We are delighted that the government has now set up the Infrastructure Commission for the UK to be chaired by Andrew Adonis.  This is a huge step in the right direction.

What key UK government policy decisions do you see as vital to driving infrastructure investment?

Having and adhering to the Infrastructure Delivery Plan - that identifies long term infrastructure programmes for the UK, and sticking to it.   This is very much enabled through the role of the newly established Infrastructure Commission driving infrastructure delivery programmes against their business plan.

Identifying clear programmes of work within the Infrastructure Delivery Plan, that are either potentially mandated through legislation and through the  Infrastructure Commission, so there is confidence in the programme delivery and benefits

That we learn the lessons from other major infrastructure programmes, both in terms of what could be done better and successes.

In addition, clients need to become better informed as clients in managing these massive programmes of work.  RICS has just published our Informed Infrastructure Client Guidance Note (  

How does UK infrastructure make itself more attractive to global private investors?

Standards and professionalism.  RICS is working with partners worldwide to develop international standards for construction and property measurement.  These have a crucial role to play in enabling investors to compare projects across markets, and truly appreciate the high value or UK investment opportunities.  

Infrastructure requires a public private partnership to enable it – public strategy and private delivery, coupled with public and/or private investment.  What makes infrastructure attractive to the private sector is the scale, longevity and certainty around long term return.  

In the UK we need to help provide certainty on cost, delivery to time and against business benefits.  Capital programmes have a history whereby typically 80%  run over budget, time and do not deliver the planned benefits.  

We need global investors to help support UK infrastructure delivery.  But to make the UK attractive we need to provide certainty in that investment such that they can be confident in the market and returns on that investment.  To attract global private investors we need to provide confidence through programme assurance around the risks at feasibility, but also throughout the delivery.

How does the move from a coalition to Tory majority government help investment prospects in infrastructure? 

Any majority government, as opposed to a coalition, gives improved, consistent and coherent decision making, regardless of political party.  As a result, this helps eliminate some of the uncertainty which affects the prospects for infrastructure.  The fact that we are likely to see a more settled political economy for the next term, and possibly beyond, has to be good news for infrastructure in the UK. 

Focus by clients on whole life value in infrastructure asset management. Are clients still too focused on capital cost reduction?

Personally I think clients are thinking more about whole life cost when they are developing the business case.  Indeed, I want to see more clients consider investing in better business cases as the key to unlocking improved infrastructure programmes for the UK.  All too often there are huge pressures to start delivery and construction rather than properly consider benefits, risks, operation and management of these assets.  More time in the planning  stage saves issues further down the programme life cycle and is time (and money) well spent.

Capital cost reduction through cost engineering and cost management are still important levers for focusing on capital cost management, but infrastructure assets have long life spans and OpEx has to be considered alongside CapEx to ensure whole life viability .  Without doing so we are just storing up problems for the future.

At RICS, we are part of a coalition locking at developing an International Construction Measurement Standard that will improve professionalism in cost measurement for construction and infrastructure globally.

You take over as president of the RICS in 2016 – what themes will you be promoting?

My role is to take forward the strategy endorsed by our Governing Council and which is being delivered through our Business Plan globally.  

In addition, every President has different strengths and it is important to play to these alongside the overarching strategy.  So my key themes will be:

- Infrastructure is my key area of expertise. Next year I will have had 30 years in the construction industry, so it makes sense for me to focus on this area especially at a time where there is huge and growing market demand for our members particularly as Commercial Managers.  Given the strong demand for skills in infrastructure, my own background, and the fact we have around 30,000 members in this sector – Infrastructure both is, and will continue to be, a major theme.  So I hope your readers will hear a lot more from me on this over the next 20 months.
- The Cities Agenda – seeing cities as the driver for infrastructure through innovation such as SMART, digital and data, community, transport, energy, communications and the wider social infrastructure element.  I will also specifically focus on London as this is my home market and remains a significant market for over 25% of our members.
- Winning the War for Talent in the industry particularly through embracing greater Diversity and Inclusion, attracting the next generation of surveyor and developing our membership to be relevant in their chosen markets is another important area.  
- Asia-Pac – specifically China and India – are huge areas of growth and pull for our membership, so I expect these countries will specifically feature also during my year.

How are you preparing the ground for your presidential year now? 

In many ways I feel like I have been on an evolving journey that probably started 25 years ago – albeit then I never thought I would ever become the President!  However, the reality is that once I became Senior Vice President, and now as President-Elect, you are on a three-year journey including the year as the RICS President, which is a global role. 

I always saw this as a three-year journey and have loved working particularly with the RICS Leadership Team of senior members and the Executive, but also Governing Council and the various boards, committees and staff of RICS across the globe.  We have members in over 140 countries and offices in 27 cities.  It involves a huge investment of time and it would not be possible without the total support of my employer.  Next year will be incredible and I cannot wait!

The RICS has nearly 200,000 members (and students) worldwide. Why is a focus on transport and energy infrastructure so important now?

The RICS Futures Report points to a $57tn demand in infrastructure spending, plus it also states the need for 50% more food, 45% more power and 30% more water by 2030 than in 2012.  There is such huge demand for RICS professionals to act as enablers for infrastructure whether that is in changing land use planning, valuing land and assets, construction and cost management.

Boosting diversity in the infrastructure sector remains a challenge. Are there any quick wins?

Our industry sees 400,000 people join and leave the industry each year.  By 2019 if we do not start to address diversity in the industry Britain will simply stop building.  So we have to do something – and quickly!

In India the RICS set up a School of the Built Environment with Amity University to help address the demand there for greater skills in the industry.  We have nearly 1400 students at Masters level graduating and entering top jobs.

For the UK, RICS has launched an Inclusive Employer Quality Mark that will help businesses – both large and SME’s – identify what they can do to help improve diversity in their organisation.  We have to start at the top by working with government to understand what needs to be done, plus with schools to attract talent in.  Professional organisations, like RICS, have a real role to play here and it is why diversity has been a key theme for us over the last two years.  

What skills do you think the infrastructure sector needs to tackle an increasingly digital enabled future?

Data.  Data is becoming a key asset in an increasingly digital enabled environment.  Ensuring data integrity, security and enablement is going to be a key skill for our members in this sector.  There is no room for technophobes in the profession going forward!

You are one of the most senior women in the industry – what has enabled your success?

In essence a love for what I do, having worked on some amazing programme engagements, and a desire to make a difference.

Do you feel you have particular responsibility to encourage more women into the sector?

Of course!  I absolutely feel I have to be a good role model and ambassador for the profession.  

But because I love what I do, and the industry, I think this is a great place for women to be able to build their careers.  In fact I have gone back to my old school as an Associate School Governor so that I can help encourage more girls to consider STEM subjects and the built environment as possible careers.  

Plus, when you look at the War for Talent without tackling the need for greater Diversity in the industry, in all aspects of diversity including gender, we will have problems in the future.

What is the biggest challenge in your new role at EY?

Probably I have to admit changing company, taking on a new role and becoming RICS President is probably not for the feint hearted.  My biggest challenge now is building on the success of the team in EY to meet growing client demand in this area and gearing up for my forthcoming year as RICS President.

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