Can the NIC deliver change?30 October 2015
The UK Government has launched a new National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and its initial focus will be threefold: northern connectivity, London’s transport infrastructure and the UK’s energy solution to better balance supply against future demand.
The concept of the NIC was initiated by Labour to act as an independent voice in Government, focusing on a long term assessment of the country’s infrastructure needs.
The current Conservative government has recognised its merits and controversially, some may argue, has appointed Lord Adonis, formerly Transport Secretary under Gordon Brown’s Labour government, as Chair of the NIC.
It will complement the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) that sets out a bottom-up assessment of planned investment in both the public and private sectors across the UK. The plan currently identifies projects amounting to £411 billion and it is expected that an average of £48 billion will be invested on an annual basis over the next five years. The two largest sectors are transport and energy accounting for a total of 91% of the plan with investment of £127.4 billion and £245 billion respectively.
The new NIC and NIP is encouraging for industry, particularly those companies that rely on major infrastructure projects, but with it comes a new challenge – the issue of skills shortage, which is most acute in the south east. This is a generational problem that requires a long term solution that sits besides the NIP. The NIC can play apart in identifying and analysing this issue, but it is primarily the responsibility of the private sector to invest in the long term training and development of the workforce to deliver these major exciting programmes. For the private sector to embrace this long term investment the government will need to create a stable environment for businesses to have trust and gain confidence in the future.
The formation of the National Infrastructure Commission will go a long way in providing this confidence, but only if the government maintain the investment levels required to deliver the infrastructure plans. Lord Adonis is due to report back in readiness for the 2016 budget, so all should become clearer early in the New Year.