UK government must do more to convince public that infrastructure spending is necessary, says CBI

Out-Law News | 16 Apr 2014 | 12:58 pm | 1 min. read

Government and businesses in the UK are not doing enough to convince members of the public of the urgent need to upgrade national infrastructure, according to the CBI, after nearly half of those it surveyed said that no improvements were needed.

A survey of over 1,000 members of the public carried out by Ipsos MORI for the business body found a "disconnect" between people's perceptions and the findings of the World Economic Forum, which has ranked the UK only 28th in the world for the quality of its infrastructure (28-page / 1.1MB PDF). Respondents also said that public bodies had to do more to 'sell' the local benefits of projects, such as quality of life for local people and job opportunities, in order to convince communities of the need for them.

"Our research reveals a major disconnect between what infrastructure investment we need for our long-term economic success compared with what the public accepts," said the CBI's director general, John Cridland. "We urgently need to upgrade our energy infrastructure to avoid future power shortages, for example."

"To bridge this perception gap government and businesses need to redouble their efforts to tell a convincing human interest story, which people can relate to and which explains the urgency of the investment the UK needs. We are simply telling the wrong story on infrastructure: rather than talking about gross domestic product and fiscal multipliers, we should be explaining about the local economy, a boost in local jobs for local businesses like cafes, B&Bs and construction firms. The public will delay decisions if their views haven't been heard," he said.

In its report, the CBI cited a National Grid rewiring project involving the installation of new transmission cables through a network of 32km of tunnels under central London as an example of community engagement done properly. National Grid began an extensive programme of public consultation, exhibitions and face to face briefings with community groups and local government two years before the project began, and has provided regular updates to the community through a dedicated website and Twitter feed, free to call telephone line and door-to-door letters and leaflets, according to the report.

Among the more concerning findings uncovered by the survey, the CBI found that 65% of respondents thought that decisions on infrastructure should be delayed in order to give the public sufficient time to air their views, even if it meant delays to vital upgrade work. According to the CBI, most public opposition that resulted in delays to large infrastructure projects was the result of a lack of relevant information, failure to tackle local residents' legitimate concerns and using the wrong decision-makers and spokespeople.

Cridland said that the survey's findings of a general distrust of politicians making national infrastructure decisions over technical experts pointed towards a need for "all parties to consider the merits of the Armitt Review", a Labour-commissioned report which suggested setting up an independent national infrastructure decision-making body.