Expert calls for "long term planning" as infrastructure industry and government pledge cooperation on skills

Out-Law News | 14 Oct 2014 | 10:59 am | 1 min. read

UK government and the construction industry are to produce a detailed "map" of the country's infrastructure skills needs, the commercial secretary to the treasury has announced.

The new 'Supply Chain Capacity and Skills Group' will include representatives from government, supply chain organisations and skills bodies and will be chaired by Diana Montgomery, the chief executive of the Construction Products Association (CPA), Lord Paul Deighton told the Institution of Civil Engineers. It expects to report to the government by next summer, he said.

Speaking to Construction News (registration required), Lord Deighton said that he could not "think of anything more important" than ensuring that the UK had enough of a skilled workforce in place to deliver the projects it had committed to under the National Infrastructure Plan.

"We're very focused in the Treasury on where our pipeline tells us we need skills so we can figure out how to invest enough to ensure those skills are available where and how we need them," he said.

The new group will provide expert guidance to government to help mitigate capacity problems in the UK infrastructure sector as work begins on more high-profile construction and engineering projects. The National Infrastructure Plan, which was last updated in December 2013, lists the government's 'pipeline' of projects in the energy, transport, flood defence, waste, water and communications sectors, including the 40 major infrastructure projects that are its highest priority.

Infrastructure expert Patrick Twist of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that "long-term planning" was the best way of ensuring that the UK had enough skilled workers to deliver on its infrastructure needs.

"It is impossible to secure a continuing perfect balance between demand and supply in the market for skilled workers but overheating and inflationary cost pressure through lack of supply have traditionally blighted every period of major capital building," he said.

"The NIP has been the subject of much scepticism on account of the regular ministerial re-announcement of projects which are either already underway, or so far in the future that they do not result in an increase in current activity. However, it does now provide a clear, long-term slate of future projects which government and the construction industry can plan for. An essential element of that planning will be ensuring that there is available the necessary skilled workforce to deliver the NIP," he said.

The government has already announced that it will open the first new further education college in England in 20 years by 2017, in time to support the "world-class" engineers that will be needed for major projects such as High Speed 2 (HS2), the new national high speed railway line. The new National College for High Speed Rail will be based in Birmingham, with an additional site in Doncaster.