The future of NIPSEF: three things to consider

What is the future, post election, of the body set up to work with the Treasury to help implement and improve the National Infrastructure Plan? Its co-chair Nelson Ogunshakin makes the case for it to continue.

When the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) was established in 2010 it was a bipartisan effort created by the coalition government. However, in its infancy, NIP was in essence a shopping list and not a strategic document, a criticism that was levelled at it from the start.

There was, therefore, an obvious need for government and industry to transform NIP into what I would call an ‘investment pitch’. That is why we have the National Infrastructure Plan Strategic Engagement Forum (NIPSEF). Through NIPSEF industry and government collaborated to facilitate the delivery of infrastructure.

"I sense the political establishment understands the rationale for it and appreciates that NIPSEF is an enabler between government and industry."

I think over the last three or four years significant progress has been made on NIP. We are getting closer to what it should be, namely a roadmap for future investment in the UK. It now addresses issues to do with planning, financing, stakeholder engagement, and supply chains. In short, NIP has become a vehicle to make investment in the UK a more attractive proposition to investors.

So what does the future hold for NIPSEF? Well before we look to the future, we need to recognise where we are now. The general election is fast approaching and from the end of March, every system, every structure that is already in place closes. Crucially when the dust settles after the election, it is up to whoever to decide what continues and what is cast aside, and what new ideas are implemented. Regardless of what is decided it is vital NIPSEF does three things:

  1. Make sure our work does not interfere with the political parties and the government departments, specifically, Infrastructure UK (IUK) and Treasury;
  2. We must ensure the NIP is built upon and taken to the next level;
  3. There must be cross-party political support for NIPSEF and its impact on NIP.

What is important is we have engaged the various political parties to raise awareness of NIPSEF. I sense the political establishment understands the rationale for it and appreciates that NIPSEF is an enabler between government and industry. Already issues to do with planning, the demand for resources, and supply chains have been addressed by NIPSEF.

Treasury has opened up to industry to inject ideas and suggestions into their own thought processes, creating solutions and allowing them to act quicker. I am confident there is a strong awareness within government of what we have been doing. As a result I believe whoever comes into power in May will look at the success story that has been achieved.

However, like every initiative nothing lasts forever. NIPSEF has to build on what it has been doing, it must continue to be relevant and add value. The current government has been supportive in encouraging engagement between stakeholders and industry. The next government would be wise to take a leaf out of that book. It will also need to feed off the confidence of the industry. For projects like HS2, Hinkley, Thames Tideway, continued stakeholder engagement is vital, and must continue.

At times, government has criticised the industry for lacking unity. I think NIPSEF has been able to harness the voices of the supply chain, the financial institutions, the asset owners, and the end user into one. To curtail NIPSEF would simply set the industry back five years and hurt the country. So I would advise the next government to look carefully at what NIPSEF has accomplished, take advantage of that and the industry will be there to support it.

Nelson Ogunshakin is chief executive of ACE.

What is NIPSEF?

ACE played the leading role within the Infrastructure Alliance (ACE, CECA, CPA and ICE) in creating NIPSEF in collaboration with the Treasury. The organisation was championed and is co-chaired by chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin on behalf Government and industry respectively.

"The group has been instrumental in reshaping the National Infrastructure Plan, for instance lobbying for the inclusion of financing options for the projects pipeline" 

NIPSEF is a four pillared organisation representing the true infrastructure industry. In total 60 CEOs and business leaders from the infrastructure supply chain, asset owners, financiers and business end user organisations like the CBI sit on NIPSEF. Each group meets separately and issues raised are taken by Ogunshakin and the chair of each group to meetings with Alexander and commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Paul Deighton.

The group has been instrumental in reshaping the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), for instance lobbying for the inclusion of financing options for the projects pipeline in the annual document. In addition, the feeling was that the NIP should be a "Pitch Book" for potential investors in the UK, something the current NIP 2014 is widely accepted to be on the path towards.

HM Treasury has also committed to develop a complementary "NIP for Skills " to support the delivery of the NIP project pipeline on the advice of those attending NIPSEF. 

Furthermore, particularly important issues have been taken by Ogunshakin and the NIPSEF chairs to the Government’s Economic Affairs (Infrastructure) Cabinet Sub-Committee, chaired by Alexander and Minister without Portfolio Oliver Letwin MP, and comprised of the Secretaries of State of all departments which spend on infrastructure.