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Manufacturers call for Government to set up permanent infrastructure authority

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 18, 2014

By Olivier Vergnault, WMN Business Editor, Twitter: @OliVergnault

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BRITAIN’s manufacturers are calling on the Government to create a permanent infrastructure authority to address the nation’s long-term strategic infrastructure requirements, bring coherence to debates on infrastructure challenges and encourage vitally needed investment to support growth and competitiveness.

The call by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, is aimed at ending decades of political wrangling and poor planning.

It comes amidst continued concerns over the UK’s neglected road and energy infrastructure, along with continued prevarication over expanding vitally needed airport capacity, a critical factor for half of foreign-owned firms when deciding where to invest, according to a recent EEF survey.

Other surveys on manufacturing investment also showed that quality of infrastructure was the fourth most critical factor for manufacturers in deciding where to invest, behind proximity to customers, labour costs and availability of skills.

Phil Brownsord, South West Region Director at EEF, said: “Political prevarication and policy reversals have left Britain in the slow lane in developing its infrastructure for decades.

“The neglect of our roads, the indecision on expanding airport capacity and the agonising over high speed rail routes connecting our major cities have only served to exacerbate the feeling that Britain’s infrastructure is not geared up to support growth.

“We now have the opportunity to put in place a new independent system that will aid long-term planning, supporting more of a consensus-based approach in identifying future needs. All political parties need to commit to this in their forthcoming manifestos.

“A UK Infrastructure Authority would add value by horizon scanning for future challenges, and ensuring debates are backed by trusted analysis.”

The EEF call for better infrastructure coordination echoes what the business sector in the Westcountry has been saying for years.

During a recent visit by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to the region, cross party politicians and business leaders reiterated how Somerset, Devon and Cornwall need better roads and better railway infrastructure.

During Mr mcLoughlin’s visit, Steve Hindley, chairman of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Give us the infrastructure and we will deliver economic growth.”

Westcountry leader told the Transport Secretary to spend £1.5 billion to £3 billion on a new inland rail line and spend some much needed cash on improving the region’s trunk roads, particularly the A303 and A30.

According to EEF, the UK lacks the institutional framework to identify, plan and deliver major projects, getting them from conception to completion in a streamlined way.

This leads to projects being identified too late, with little or no time for a proper assessment or public debate.

As a result, when infrastructure projects do finally go ahead it is through desperate necessity, with the sky high costs associated with such an approach.

EEF’s proposal would be set up as a non-ministerial government department maintaining its impartiality, while also having the flexibility to work across Government.

Every five years, the Authority would be tasked with developing a new national infrastructure assessment which would look ahead at the country’s

infrastructure needs over a ten, twenty and fifty year horizon at both national and regional levels.

It would identify future challenges and trends, and would also outline when decisions will need to be made.

The public, businesses, political parties and others will be consulted on the long-term assessments and invited to submit their own ideas for projects.

According to EEF’s proposal, the Authority would also be tasked with providing an annual progress report to Parliament.

This would show what progress is being made in the development of infrastructure projects and concepts, and highlight the viability of solutions which may have been proposed.

The EEF said this new system would work in the same effective way as other Institutions which already exist, such as the UK Statistics Authority, Committee on Climate Change, Airports Commission and Office for Budget Responsibility.

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