Manufacturers join calls for creation of independent UK 'Infrastructure Authority'

Out-Law News | 19 Aug 2014 | 12:42 pm | 2 min. read

The creation of a permanent body, independent of government, to manage the UK's strategic long-term infrastructure needs would "end political prevarication" on some of the country's most pressing infrastructure needs, according to a new report.

EEF, the trade body for UK manufacturers, is the latest group to support a new 'UK Infrastructure Authority' (UKIA), similar to the National Infrastructure Commission recommended by Labour Party adviser Sir John Armitt in his recent infrastructure review. In its report, EEF highlighted its members continued concerns about the country's neglected road and energy infrastructure (12-page / 405KB PDF) as well as the "continued prevarication" over expanding airport capacity.

"We 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," said Chris Richards, a policy adviser at EEF. "All political parties need to commit to this in their forthcoming manifestos."

"In a nutshell, a UK Infrastructure Authority would add value by horizon-scanning for future challenges, and ensuring debates are backed by trusted analysis," he said.

EEF's report calls for the creation of a single UKIA with a parent board, which would be accountable to the parliament of the time. This body would be set up as a non-ministerial government department, which would be impartial while having the flexibility to work across government in a similar way to the current UK Statistics Authority, Committee on Climate Change or Office for Budget Responsibility, EEF said.

Every five years, EEF's UKIA would be tasked with developing a new 'National Infrastructure Assessment' setting out the country's national and regional infrastructure needs over 10, 20 and 50 year periods, according to its report. The public, businesses, political parties and other would then be consulted on this assessment and invited to submit their own ideas for consideration. Any final decisions would then be taken by the government of the day, and would be underpinned by independent analysis from the UKIA. UKIA would then deliver an annual progress report to parliament setting out how the projects and concepts identified by the assessment were being taken forward.

In his Labour-commissioned review, the final report of which was published alongside draft legislation in July, former Olympic Delivery Authority chair Sir John Armitt recommended the creation of a new National Infrastructure Commission with statutory independence. This body would be set up by an act of parliament to set clear long-term priorities for UK infrastructure investment and would produce a National Infrastructure Assessment to be presented to parliament for its approval once every 10 years. Once completed and approved, this document would form the basis of project planning by individual government departments.

Infrastructure UK, the treasury unit that deals with long-term infrastructure priorities and their funding, currently produces an annual National Infrastructure Plan. However, this work has been criticised for not being "strategic" enough, while Infrastructure UK itself does not have the statutory independence or profile of the likes of the Office for Budget Responsibility or Committee on Climate Change.

According to research by EEF, quality of national infrastructure is the fourth most important factor considered by manufacturers when deciding where to invest. Only proximity to customers, labour costs and availability of skills are more important. Another recent survey, on transport, found that the operating costs of half of manufacturers had been significantly increased by the state of the UK's roads while a third of the most export-intensive firms said that the state of the UK's port infrastructure had significantly increased their operating costs.