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Give Parliament and public ways to measure transport levelling up ‘infrastructure revolution’

29 September 2021

The Government’s ‘levelling up’ concept needs to move beyond rhetoric and on to delivery, requiring targets and metrics to enable Parliament and public to identify success, says a new report from the Transport Select Committee, Major transport infrastructure projects.

Major transport infrastructure is at the centre of the Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, published in November 2020. The strategy aims to support an ‘infrastructure revolution’ to reduce regional inequalities within the UK. While the coronavirus pandemic continues, Government should examine whether existing projects will deliver their intended strategic benefits and policy objectives, recommends the report.

The Committee calls on Government to prioritise projects which support connectivity, growth and productivity. It recommends a new framework for assessing individual projects, replacing benefit-cost ratios with a ‘benefit-cost plus’ system to ensure value for money for the taxpayer while according due weight to geographic, environmental and social factors.

The Committee’s report highlights several major transport infrastructure projects that have exceeded timelines and budgets, with senior management at government agencies apparently unaccountable for progress. Delivering these projects is a challenging and complex process made more difficult, and less transparent, by single specific targets, says the report. The report recommends the introduction of floors and ceilings for project costs and timescales. MPs also call for the creation of a formal duty to inform Parliament’s Select Committees about increased costs or delivery times for the roll-out of major transport infrastructure projects.

Ensuring UK Plc has the workforce to deliver major infrastructure projects is vital for delivery. However, the Committee heard of predicted shortfalls in skills across project delivery, analysis, construction, engineering, management and leadership. The Committee calls on Government to develop and deliver a future skills plan in consultation with public and private sector employers to identify and address skills gaps which might delay projects.

Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:

“Successive Governments have struggled to deliver major transport infrastructure to time and budget. It’s clear that the project management and delivery of these projects could be substantially improved. Too many projects start out with early political announcements but no clear view of the finish line. As a consequence, many overrun on time and budget without sufficient accountability. We see the benefit of a UK-wide infrastructure programme – we want the public to share that view, too. Government must set out the definition and metrics by which success will be defined.

“In too many examples, senior management at the responsible Government agencies are apparently unaccountable for projects which overrun and exceed their budgets. They must be incentivised to acknowledge difficulties, and we recommend a formal mechanism be created for this purpose.

“The changes to the Government’s transport spending rules are welcome in order to deliver our net zero and regeneration targets. Too many projects have been focussed in the most productive parts of the country purely because they deliver the greatest ‘bang for the buck’ to the Treasury. However, the Government must continue to keep an eye on return to the taxpayer and not invest in green ‘white elephants’ or projects which do not level up for those who most need it.

“The Government is ambitiously planning an ‘Infrastructure Revolution’. To deliver this vision, we need investment in a workforce capable of building it. A future skills plan, including apprenticeships and training programmes, is essential. To help our transport pioneers level up, to time and budget, the Government needs to make difficult decisions and assess if legal and political activism must level down.”

Further information

Image: Department for Transport/Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)