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National Infrastructure Strategy finally published

25 November 2020: The long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy and the government’s response to the National Infrastructure Assessment were finally published yesterday alongside the Spending Review.

The recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) have at last been dealt with by the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy. The government says it is partially or fully endorsing 80% of the NIC’s recommendations.

The National Infrastructure Strategy itself is 100 pages long, with a particular focus on supporting the economic recovery from the pandemic and in levelling up the economy. Improved broadband, road and rail networks are promised, with the challenge being to provide better connectivity whilst reducing carbon emissions. 

The strategy incorporates the ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ announced by the Prime Minister last week and looks at how to decarbonise the power, heat, heavy industry and transport networks which account for 80% of UK emissions.

How will all of this infrastructure investment be paid for? There are plans to support private investment in infrastructure, and the setting up of a new UK infrastructure bank will provide a framework for such private investment.

Although it has taken more than two years for the government to respond to the National Infrastructure Assessment, the strategy aims to accelerate and improve the actual delivery of infrastructure through the speeding up of the planning system, improving the way projects are chosen and run and reforming how government procurement takes place. No doubt the use of good data will assist with this aim.

Alison Ring, director for public sector at ICAEW, commented: “ICAEW has been pushing for the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy for some time and I very much welcome its publication. The UK has suffered from decades of under-investment in infrastructure and the arrival of a strategy that sets how this can be addressed is essential if the UK is to achieve long-term growth across the entire country whilst contributing to its net-zero carbon objectives at the same time. The ambition set out in these documents, if translated into strong project planning and practical activity, should go towards growing a sustainable economy.

“Now that there is a strategy, the focus will move to how quickly these plans can be delivered. This concern is clearly shared by the OBR, which has increased its expectation of underspends against capital budgets and cut back on its forecasts for capital expenditure by local authorities as they retrench spending following the pandemic. The government will need to address both deliverability and local government capital funding if it is to fulfil its ambitions of an investment-led economic recovery and a levelling up across the country.”