The answer to continuous and disruptive change in infrastructure decision making is to involve the public – says a report from the Institute for Government.
The short-termist nature of politics and the long horizons of infrastructure planning and construction are incompatible and require a publicly accountable body to see them through, it says.
National infrastructure policy in the UK changes frequently to the point that new projects are dreamed up, reframed, scrapped and reinvented – which results in delays, wasted work and increased costs for taxpayers and private individuals, the report adds.
The Institute for Government is a think-tank, which exists to examine government and try to make it more effective, made several recommendations in its report How to design an infrastructure strategy for the UK.
The absence of a national infrastructure strategy has serious consequences, it says, and the founding of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in 2015 represents a great opportunity to build further and eliminate many of the problems.
- Developing a long-term national infrastructure strategy that co-ordinates the work of central government and provides more clarity on impact for the regions.
- Strengthen the independence and mandate of the NIC
- Reinstate the position of Commercial Secretary to the Treasury with a portfolio entirely focussed on infrastructure.
Crucially, it further recommends the Government should establish a Commission for Public Engagement, modelled on the French Commission Nationale du Débat Public in order to provide more continuity to decision making.
This would, says the report, facilitate in-depth deliberations with representative panels of the public and evaluate policy options for inclusion in the National Infrastructure Policy as well as facilitate public debate with communities that would be affected by projects as they become pertinent in the consultation process.
Finally, it recommends the CPE should be an executive non-departmental public body and be funded jointly by government and scheme promoters.
EIX partner Caroline Haynes says: “We very much like the idea of the reinstatement of the Commercial Secretary post with a mission to represent funding within infrastructure and making sure doors are truly open for the private sector and not just ajar.
“We are quite sure the Government set up the National Infrastructure Commission in the first place to address the need for long-term planning for infrastructure outside political cycles.”