Written evidence submitted by the UK2070 Commission
- This submission to the JCNSS draws upon the work of the UK2070 Commission chaired by Lord Kerslake. It is an independent inquiry into the deep-rooted spatial inequalities that exist across the UK.
- The assessment CNI must not be done in isolation or on the based upon past trends. These two factors have created the current weaknesses in CNI, and threaten to make them more acute if they continued. In addition, the need to adapt to climate change is only one of potential ‘shocks’ the UK faces (see ‘Fairer and Stronger’ (Section 4).)
- It is essential to recognise that the UK has a twin-headed crisis created by the link between the transition to a net zero-economy and the deep-rooted spatial inequalities in the UK. Any policy must therefore be set within this context. The strategy for safeguarding of the UK’s CNI must therefore take account of the new zero-carbon economy structure and distribution but must also it must be ‘just’ and take account of its spatial impacts. If it does not it will end up replicating or reinforcing the current patterns of inequality.
- As a corollary, the investment in the UK’s CNI must unlock twin-headed opportunities, that provide the basis for creating greater resilience and rebalancing the economic geography of the UK, and reducing the dependency of London and the Wider South East as the primary source of economic growth.
- The investment in CNI however cannot be delivered centrally alone. It requires stronger local leadership supported by much clearer, consistent and integrated national spatial policies. This has implications in terms of making central government structures and processes fit for purpose, and in promoting local devolution which is comprehensive and effective, including levelling-up access to funding.
- The following responses to the seven sets of questions asked by the JCNSS are made within the context of the over-riding considerations set out above. These responses draw upon the following three key reports of the UK2070 Commission, in addition to the range of UK2070 research reports on its website:
- ‘Fairer and Stronger’ – an analysis in May 2019 of the evidence submitted and commissioned by the UK2070 Commission;
- ‘Make No Little Plans’ – The findings and recommendation of the UK2070 Commission, in February 2020) including its 10-Point Plan (refer Annex A); and
- ‘Go Big: Go Local’ – A Review of the Impact of the Pandemic, updating the analysis and reinforcing the findings of the early report.
- Lord Kerslake would be happy to give oral evidence at any future session of the Committee if it is considered that it would be helpful to its considerations.
Issue 1: What are the key vulnerabilities and levels of preparedness of UK CNI to extreme weather events and other effects of climate change?
- Response to Issue 1: The thirteen CNI sectors have direct but varying significance in delivering a Just Transition to adapting to Climate Change. Seven are directly related to the work of the UK2070 Commission and are grouped in terms of core infrastructure (energy, communications, transport and water), natural capital (food supplies) and institutional capacity (finance and governance).
- In terms of core infrastructure, the work of the UK2070 Commission has highlighted the following key ‘vulnerabilities’:
- Re Energy: The need is to make a rapid transition to clean energy sources. If the UK does not make the transition much more rapidly, it risks becoming very vulnerable to external supplies. Public sector investment is critical at the stage the UK is at. It is of concern that the UK is putting in so much less than our comparators – UK $1bn; France $8bn and Germany $10bn;
- Re Communications: Major digital disparities persist across areas of the UK. London has 7.0% internet nonusers, compared with 12.1% in the North East of England. The changing patterns of work and travel are increasingly driven by the quality of the digital infrastructure of the UK. The implications have been exposed by the pandemic in terms of access to services, ability to work from and the quality of home schooling, all of which have benefited the better off.;
- Re Transport: The current transport systems and networks are insufficient to build resilient city regions. There is a need for a Connectivity Revolution as set out in the UK2070 Report ‘Make No Little Plans’ (pages 39-44) and report; and
- Re Water: There is also an existential threat arising from the expected long-term population growth of the UK combined with climate change in southern England, unless there is a rebalancing of the economy and supporting CNI investment.
- In terms of Natural Capital (Food supplies) the UK2070 Commission’s report Fairer and Stronger’ highlighted the global food shortages as a critical threat to the resilience of the UK. There is a need to deliver a fundamental shift in the UK’s dependency on imported food. This requires action across a wider range of policy than covered by the UK2070 Commission. However, one issue highlighted in its work is the need for a long-term commitment to protecting and enhancing agricultural land resources (not just prime-land) and related socio-economic ecosystems. One of the key threats to such a policy is the imbalanced pattern of regional development. The current trend is towards more than 50% of development being in the Wider South East will increase the loss of the UK’s most productive agricultural land. The policy for levelling-up and rebalancing the UK economy is important to reducing the rate of loss of this CNI.
- In terms of Institutional Capacity, it is essential to recognise that the current threats to NCI are not new. The failure to address these threats has arisen from the official narrow measures of success resulting in too little action being taken too late. As a result, past action has not taken account of longer-term generational and well-being impacts, despite, or because, of a very centralised system of government. This has resulted in:
- Short-Term and Constant Change in Policies and Delivery Agencies which does not allow sufficient time for any programme of action to have real impact;
- Conflicting National Policies arising from an over-centralised administrative system which in the case of CNI is reflected in policies which encourage excessive levels of development in areas with stressed water resources;
- Low Levels of Investment which result in under-resourced programmes of action, create a competitive project-based culture, and hold back ambition; and
- Constrained local decision-making and action needed to support CNI.
- Locationally, infrastructure issues and priorities (such as sea flood defences) vary across the UK because of the geographical variations the impacts of climate change (see Annex B). This requires detailed assessments and responses to be local. common vulnerabilities require consistent national policy but also locally tailored responses.
- There is also a basic weakness in the project-based decision making that is used. This is exemplified by responses to the impact of sea level rise. For example, in highly urbanised estuarine areas (e.g. Clydeside), the combination of sea-level change, tidal surges and extreme weather create the risk of serious regionally localised flooding, often of important economic assets. Historically, Green Book rules have treated action to respond to such threats on a project-by-project basis and therefore of essentially local benefit. In the context of climate change, the need for collective albeit separate projects have to be treated as an integrated national policy and of national benefit.
- A second example, relates to the approach to sea level rise in low-lying regions, especially the east of England, as is highlighted in the UK2070 Report ‘Fairer and Stronger’. This recommended a more integrated national response to the threat of sea-level rise as part of a National Spatial Plan. CNI Policy could for example seek to harness tidal power of estuaries upon which several of major cities sit, and the creation of New English Polders linking the risk global food shortages and rural regeneration.
Issue 2: What might constitute an ‘acceptable’ level of resilience to climate change within UK CNI, both to near-term risks and longer-term uncertainties or ‘tipping points’, and the obstacles to achieving it
- Response to Issue 2: The metrics of ‘acceptable’ level of resilience should be determined not only by the probability and degree of impact but also include the institutional capacity to respond. There are well established approaches to such analysis, e.g. the National Risk Register. There are however three endemic obstacles to implementing such analysis:
- Lack of a National Outcomes Framework: Currently, measures of risk do not have any agreed framework of reference in terms of the basic standards of living and environmental conditions that are at risk. This is a general problem (not just in terms of climate change) that has been addressed in the UK2070 Report ‘Go Big: Go Local’.
- Framing Uncertainties: There is a twofold problem that currently exists in the framing of uncertainties in public policy. First, in many areas policy is still based on trend analysis (e.g. in housing assumptions) and therefore a false view of potential future conditions. Secondly, even where uncertainty is built into analysis already, it is place blind. In contrast the work undertaken by the University of Cambridge has demonstrated the potential for spatial analysis at a UK level.
- Ownership of the measures of ‘acceptability: Departmentalism in central government has a silo-based culture, whereby policy in one area is not given equal importance in another department’s activities. For example, the risks to CNI for water supplies is not reflected in house building planning targets set for local authorities.
- These problems will be accentuated by the radical uncertainty that has been created by Covid-19 and future global shocks. The UK2070 Commission has set out six issues arising from the New Norms, Values and Politics post-Covid19 which will critically affect the policies needed for CNI:
- An Age of Uncertainty that limits on the ability to act with confidence.
- Increased Fears that require greater emphasis on safety as well as security.
- Local Empowerment that requires supported and not controlled devolution.
- A Renewed State that requires a more proactive and less reactive government.
- Growing Inequality in terms of growing social and economic divisions across the UK, including ethnicity, gender and health.
- Beyond Austerity in meeting the needs of society with lower consumption of resources.
Issue 3: The effectiveness of Government policy, legislation and implementation frameworks for managing national security risks arising from climate change, including those emerging within the private sector
- Response to Issue 3: The answers to Issues 1 & 2 above highlight the ineffectiveness of current approaches to planning of CNI in the UK. Current trajectories will make it less secure, with poorer socio-economic outcomes, as illustrated in the UK2070 Report ‘Make No Little Plans’. This arises because of the gap between the rhetoric of Government policy and action on the ground, which tends to be on too little, too short term and unaligned. The powers to change already exist. Two key steps should now be taken.
- First, new institutions and processes should be created, including:
- National Outcomes Frameworks based on the long-term national goal for ‘stepping- up’ wellbeing, opportunities and economic performance;
- Establishing a powerful cross-government ministerially-led committee, involving the devolved administrations, to oversee the delivery of CNI;
- Creating a dedicated national team to develop and deliver the programme;
- Devolving power and funding away from Whitehall and measure success locally through outcomes supported by flexible ‘block grant’ funding;
- Establishing independent institutions and commissions located outside London and the Wider South East for example for CNI.
- Secondly, policy needs to become spatially integrated and be no longer place-blind. To do so needs a coherent spatial vision or framework, agreed by all political parties, to which diverse and disparate parties can relate. The UK2070 Commission has therefore proposed that the National Infrastructure Commission is tasked to create such a national spatial plan for England, to guide investment and support the development. This would complement the work already done by the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland governments and facilitate collaboration with them on spatial policy agendas of common interest. It would also contribute to the promotion of the UK’s global role, setting out explicit long-term funded priorities, and integrate multi-agency programmes of action to make future development resilient.
Issue 4: Allocation of roles and responsibilities at the national, devolved and local level, and the connections between them
- Response to Issue 4: In terms of CNI, it is important that action and priorities are tailored to local circumstances. The current highly centralised nature of government however constrains the capacity to act locally. This applies just as much to the consideration of CNI as any area of policy, and therefore needs to be built into the wider programme of devolution based on the following:
- Future devolution being defined by outcomes, and not just a redistribution of powers and resources;
- A shift in emphasis towards local and sub-regional partners taking the lead with a clear portfolio of powers available to all with new inclusive processes;
- A ‘triple devolution’ (to individual authorities, combined authorities and wider regions) without creating further tiers of government, through a ‘leaders’ convention’ for the each of the regions; and
- A clear link to the Cabinet and Parliament.
Issue 5: The role of the Government’s forthcoming National Resilience Strategy (NRS), particularly in addressing opportunities for (and obstacles to) improved resilience among CNI providers
- Response to Issue 5: The role of the NRS is essentially about setting out the strategy for addressing opportunities and obstacles to improving national resilience. However, on its own it will be ineffective. It needs to build into a National Spatial Plan which shows how the NRS is integrated with the other key areas of policy, for example, for levelling-up and Zero-carbon.
Issue 6: The extent and effectiveness of UK-wide monitoring and early warning systems
- Response to Issue 6: There is a need to address the differing national long- term horizons and assumptions used in planning CNI. At present, there are no common horizons (see table) used for national policy development nor an agreed economic context for these. There is a need to get away from being driven by past trends and to move to testing future policies over longer strategic horizons which extend over many electoral cycles.
Differing National Planning Timeframes
- Common and agreed analytical frameworks and future perspectives are therefore required which set out ‘the State of the United Kingdom’ – a form of National Balance Sheet of the scale and form of development that is aspired to over the longer term, and which goes beyond the role of, for example, the OBR on policy or the ONS on analysis.
- The First Report of the UK2070 Commission explored the options for undertaking this, including DATAR and the CGET, the French models that have much to commend them. Whatever model is adopted, there is a need for the capacity to stress test issues against Government policies and to hold Government to account both through support and challenge. It is therefore recommended that a UK Knowledge Hub should be established through a partnership of government and joint research council funding.
Issue 7: The opportunities presented by technological solutions (such as AI and digital twins) for anticipating and managing the implications of climate change for CNI.
- Response to issue 7: This would be part of the on-going remit of a UK Knowledge Hub, since technological change is rapid and needs continuous review of opportunities that it presents.
6 January 2022
ANNEX A: The UK2070 10-Point Plan
- A Spatially Just Transition to Zero-carbon to tackle climate change and re-balance the economy through an explicit spatial dimension to the UK’s plan to become zero carbon by 2050.
- Delivering a Connectivity Revolution, transforming the connections between and within cities and to poorly connected towns with infrastructure investment increased to at least 3% of GDP.
- Creating New Global Centres of Excellence in research and development to create ‘hub and spoke’ networks across the country comparable to the economic impact of the SE ‘golden triangle’.
- Strengthening the Foundations of Local Economies in disadvantaged towns and empowering local leadership to develop economic capacity and promote resilience and wellbeing.
- Rethinking the Housing Crisis, recognising housing as part of national infrastructure and ensuring that the supply of new housing is aligned with the needs of the economy.
- Harnessing Cultural & Environmental Assets increasing the focus of policy and funding on assets outside of London.
- Implementing a Comprehensive Devolution, shifting power and funding through a programme of devolution, allowing different places to progress at rates according to local ambition, need and capacity.
- Future Skilling the UK tackling the historic under-performance of the UK on skills through national plans to raise attainment levels, especially in those skills needed to achieve the levels of the best performing places.
- Levelling-UP Access to Funds tripling the size of the Shared Prosperity Fund for 20 years, with clear spatial priorities, delivering an extra expenditure of £200bn over that already planned.
- Shaping the UK2070 Future by tasking the NIC to create a national spatial plan for England and linking to those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to support local and regional spatial plans.
Changing the Way Decisions are Made in order to deliver the above actions by establishing a powerful ministerially-led cross-government committee with a dedicated team, to oversee delivery, with flexible funding and new measures of success, including a review of appraisal methodologies for major projects.
Annex B: Map from UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Synthesis Report
 Although the focus is on these sectors it needs to be recognised that all 13 are interrelated e.g. chemicals (hydrogen) and energy
 Further detail of these recommendations can be found in the UK2070 Report make No Little Plans