Same old congestion, new approach?

Tedious congestion is projected for years to come, but will our infrastructure supply be about to change? asks economics student and EIX business development assistant Tomás Clarke.

As a Londoner, I have been using the capital’s transport infrastructure my whole life and as a result I feel a great responsibility to find multiple ways of complaining about the Tube.

It is never original or funny or even entertaining but is very much a necessity to maintain relative sanity before the start of a working day.

After a good old-fashioned whinge, a familiar sounding rhetorical question pops up: “Why don’t they just make it all bigger, so we can all fit in and not feel like sardines?”

Who does know why ‘they’ won’t?

So it was a relief to find the beginnings of an answer while attending the launch of the 2018 report from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) this month (October 2018) titled: “State of the Nation – Infrastructure Investment”

The UK’s population is forecast to reach 75m by 2050, according to the Infrastructure Transition Research Consortium, which will put further demand on our public services.

It is therefore, not surprising to discover that public support for greater infrastructure is on the rise with 75 per cent of adults believing in spending more on infrastructure improvements according to the latest polls from YouGov, who conducted their survey using a sample size of 1643 GB adults.

Well summed up by Professor Lord Robert Mair, ICE president, at the launch: “We face a time when the demands on infrastructure services are changing and increasing, with pressures from population growth, ageing demographics, increasing urbanisation, and resilience issues due to climate change.”

State of the Nation

“State of the Nation” detailed how funding should aim to improve the UK’s rails, roads, water and energy sectors as well as stating where the government fits in among it all.

This report could not be more timely with the seemingly endless merry-go-round of Brexit negotiations which will, hopefully, carve out the way the UK’s infrastructure needs are funded for the long and short term.

In the days of Britain and EU ‘harmony’, the UK contributed more than 16 per cent towards the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) capital assets, according to the Financial Times. However, the UK receives 8 per cent of capital investment from the EIB in return and would (in theory) end up better off after the separation.

With undertones of an actual divorce, the UK would be well within their rights to ask for that money back. The EIB, currently, does not fund non-EU countries, which will from March, include the UK.

However, it could be said that the UK is a “net contributor” to the EIB’s activities. By putting up 16 per cent of the capital, while only receiving 8 per cent of the bank’s assets to the country in the form of investment.

Revenue generation

Reducing risk and increasing revenue generating investments in the infrastructure industry should always be a priority and was subsequently prioritised throughout the ICE’s report.

The ICE also highlighted the importance of increasing the number of domestic pension funds investing in UK infrastructure projects.

This was echoed by Guy Opperman (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions), who said that current state of pension schemes was, “bizarre” and that, “The department will be looking at how to remove barriers [to investment in infrastructure] and will be considering what announcement can be made in the coming months.”

A “State of the Nation” provides us with the necessary guidance the UK needs in order to beat the future increased growth in population and doesn’t necessarily provide us with the current state of affairs. “How to improve our state of the Nation” would be a more accurate title.

However, in the words of the popular 1980s philosophers Bananarama: “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it,”

The ICE used opinion polls back up their future plans for the UK’s infrastructure in their report, thereby, perhaps, giving the future users of our transport infrastructure a chance to send their message to those who govern it.


Professor Ian Reeves CBE, Chairman of EIX, found YouGov’s results to be “unsurprising” but questioned the method of the poll, saying that 1643 adults was a “fairly small sample group” and that the results would also be dependent on where the sampled adults lived.

He said: “If you were to only ask London-based people then the results would suggest a higher need to invest in infrastructure than that of other areas around the UK.

“Infrastructure provides an essential public service but can only be justified by efficiency. Afterall, one of the main objectives of Infrastructure is to move people and goods from A to B, enabling economic development.”

He added: “The demand of the general public will be a major factor when evaluating whether or not an infrastructure project has been a success or a failure and therefore it makes sense to ask them before a spade has been planted.”

The country and the world is certainly crying out for a new age of greater, more efficient infrastructure to arise and answer our moans but until that materialises, I guess we will have to put up with our faces pressed against someone else’s armpit on the 7:39 train into London Waterloo.

You can read the full report here