Amanda Clack 28 Mar 2017 04:16pm

How the government can deliver on infrastructure

Philip Hammond’s Spring Budget earlier this month, while short on major infrastructure announcements, continued to focus on and address the key role that skills and infrastructure investment can play in addressing the UK’s overall productivity conundrum

Caption: Amanda Clack on how the chancellor is focusing on improving productivity through infrastructure.

Digital infrastructure led the way with £200m put aside to help accelerate the rollout of faster broadband which will help the UK play catch-up at a time when other countries and their economies are already enjoying the benefits of extensive "full fibre" broadband.

Investment in 5G mobile technology will also be a key enabler for innovations such as driverless cars. If driverless vehicles are to take off, they will need high-speed networks coupled with very low latency to allow key decisions and actions to be rapidly taken, so this news will be cheered by investors in that technology.

Moving from cars to tarmac, local authorities competing for a £690m fund to remove bottlenecks from local road networks will reap benefits in a relatively short time.

Traffic congestion costs economies millions every year in lost hours and is also detrimental to the environment. Local authorities will have had ideas for schemes on their radar but have been stifled by a lack of funding, so it’ll be interesting to see the impact of this investment on traffic flows.

The Midlands Engine Strategy was also announced, and it’s promising to hear it will create 300,000 jobs and bring £34bn to the regional economy by 2030. The Midlands are already one of the best performing regions of the UK for attracting inward investment according to the 2016 EY UK Attractiveness Survey.

The same survey also noted that Foreign Direct Investment requires delivery on infrastructure improvements such as digital skills, roads and airports. These measures will clearly help UK connectivity and show that continued infrastructure investment is key to unlocking regional growth.

Skills are critical to infrastructure delivery and the UK faced significant skills challenges even before the vote to leave the EU last year. It is therefore great to see the £300m to support research focusing on STEM subjects to help bring technical qualifications closer to its academic counterparts. As we move forward, the government must continue to invest in the skills the economy needs and put access to skills at the heart of the EU negotiation strategy.

Overall, given the bigger picture, there is still a lot to take away from this Spring Budget. We already have the frameworks in place, under the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, to ensure major infrastructure projects are on track but it’s great to see skills taking their rightful place in the spotlight.

Amanda Clack is head of infrastructure advisory at EY