MANUFACTURERS have called for the creation of a permanent UK Infrastructure Authority to address the nation’s long-term strategic requirements, and encourage vitally needed investment to support growth and competitiveness.

The call by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, in a new paper published today (MONDAY) 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 dithering over expanding airport capacity, a critical factor for half of foreign-owned firms when deciding where to invest, according to a recent EEF survey.

Loading article content

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

Andy Tuscher, North East Region Director at EEF, says: “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.

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

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.

NECC Chief Executive, James Ramsbotham, said: “For decades North-East business has been failed by a lack of strategic thinking when it has come to prioritising spending on critical infrastructure projects.

“Our businesses, in this region more than anywhere else in the country, are dependent on our transport infrastructure to get our goods to the global market and while we welcome recent investment announcements, such as the transport schemes green-lit in the past twelve months, we have to remember that most of this is well overdue – and in the case of the A1, 50 years overdue.

“For half a century the North East has been without a motorway connection and we are excluded from the proposed High Speed Rail network which could provide a vital service for our economy. The playing field for infrastructure funding must be levelled and if a UK Infrastructure Authority would help achieve that then the Government is duty bound to consider its potential.

“The North-East can generate far more wealth for UK Plc if we are afforded a fair deal on infrastructure to help us deliver wealth and jobs.”

EEF’s proposal, which goes beyond any of the proposals by the main political parties, would see the creation of a single UK Infrastructure Authority, with a parent board accountable to parliament. It 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 will 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 then be consulted on the long-term assessments and invited to submit their own ideas for projects. Just as with the current Airports Commission, the final decision would then be taken by the Government of the day, underpinned by independent analysis from the Authority.

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.

It would also provide an overarching framework for project proposals, lead to better long-term strategic planning and bring coherence to decision making in a more timely manner. Crucially, EEF believes it would facilitate greater consensus on the most important infrastructure challenges of the future and minimise the stop start approach to project development.

EEF believes that 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.