Skills need to be a major focus for next National Infrastructure Plan

Crossrail platform tunnels at Bond St - skills learned here need to be nurtured for future projects says NIPSEF

Terry Morgan, Steve Fox, Robbie Owen and Darryl Murphy give their views as chairs of the National Infrastructure Plan Strategic Engagement Forum. Peter Campbell reports.

On Tuesday this week the government launched the fifth iteration of the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), a document that forms the strategic keystone in the identification and delivery of key infrastructure. This update came off the back of serious engagement with the National Infrastructure Plan Strategic Engagement Forum, a cross-sector body whose very aim is to engage directly with government. This is to ensure the NIP fulfils its remit of providing the UK with the right conditions to ensure delivery of the vital infrastructure the UK needs to compete in the global economy.

Here the four sub-group chairs give us their views on the new plan and what it will mean for infrastructure going forward.

Steve Fox, chair of the NIPSEF Supply Chain sub-group and chief executive of BAM Nuttall

“A well-functioning supply chain is a crucial component in any infrastructure project, however with over £400bn of projects identified in this updated NIP, the challenge increases exponentially. Hopefully this next development of the NIP will provide more certainty to facilitate the investment necessary to develop skills, increase manufacturing and innovation.  Otherwise costs will escalate and delivery will inevitably take longer.  Government and all parts of industry will need to respond in these respects.

“Additionally, the NIP should continue to regularly update and provide the most recent information so the supply chain can modify its plans accordingly.”

Robbie Owen, chair of the NIPSEF Business End Users sub-group and partner at Pinsent Masons

“The updated NIP saw new and welcome efforts from Treasury to engage more openly in the development of the document, something for which we on NIPSEF have been calling for some time. We must, however, continue to make the process more transparent and longer term if all parties involved in infrastructure delivery are to have confidence in the process.

In addition, while there is a focus, rightly so, on engineering skills in discussion, we must not forget the wide range of expertise vital to the infrastructure delivery process. These can include those with knowledge and experience of the planning process, for instance, and will be especially important to local authorities and regional bodies if the devolution agenda proceeds as expected. Compulsory purchase can often be a very difficult area that infrastructure projects get caught up in and so the Government’s review of it with prospects for some reforms is very welcome, especially as until now it has not been seen as a high priority.”

Darryl Murphy, chair of the NIPSEF Finance sub-group and partner at KPMG

“The finance community welcomed the initial Finance Update of NIP, published earlier this year, and this year we are pleased to see it incorporated into the full document. Investors need to be able to see clearly what opportunities are out there, when investment will be required, what mechanisms will be utilised, and what the return on their investment will be. The updated NIP goes some way to address these points.

“It is clear that energy will demand the lion’s share of investment, and now the challenge is ensuring the right support packages are implemented to finance and fund the necessary generation capacity to ensure the lights do not go out.

“Overall, the report correctly highlights the financing market has improved markedly although the scale and risk of certain projects remain a challenge.”

Terry Morgan, chair of the NIPSEF Supply Chain sub-group and chairman of Crossrail

“A big challenge for government and industry continues to be ensuring that those skills developed on projects like Crossrail are transferred to other projects as they come online. This is why a sufficiently detailed and forward-looking project pipeline is a vital aspect of any infrastructure plan, and when projects are a mix of private and public, why collaboration between government and industry is a necessity.

“A comprehensive pipeline allows for projects to be aligned properly, otherwise we run the risk of unnecessary additional costs. It also ensures facilities such as Crossrail’s tunnelling academy or the HS2 Colleges are viable, as the next generation of potential engineers are able to see fulfilling and long-term careers ahead of them. Furthermore, Lord Deighton’s remarks that the government wants to incentivise a step-change across industry in the levels of investment in skills, for instance through setting clear and consistent objectives in procurement, represents a welcome new approach.”