By Jonathan Smith

At the start of this year I joined the Institute of Civil Engineer’s Northern Powerhouse Panel as they embarked on writing a report assessing the infrastructure needs of the North of England. The report, titled ‘Delivering a Northern Infrastructure Strategy’, was launched in September and has been gaining political traction and generating interesting discussions ever since. The report does not formally define ‘the North’ but rather aims to include any region that would want to be part of ‘the north of England’ with an obvious focus on counties from Cheshire and Yorkshire up to the Scottish borders.

The report, rather than presenting a pipeline of specific infrastructure projects, presents a vision of four infrastructure sectors (Transport, Energy, Digital, and Housing) and addresses the themes of governance, funding and skills. Its main point is that no-one sector or project can deliver the step-change required and for the North to fully unlock its economic potential a co-ordinated infrastructure strategy needs developing, along with mechanisms for providing the skills and funding to deliver the infrastructure strategy.

Due to the focus on a co-ordinated approach, and a desire to keep the blog (relatively!) short, I only outline the seven recommendations related to the overarching themes. The five remaining recommendations, and a link to download the full report can be found here.

Governance

It is the governance section of the report that has caught most people’s attention and the three recommendations come from the steering groups’ belief that for the ‘North of England’ to unlock its full economic potential and speak from a single ‘hymn sheet’ on infrastructure development the hymn sheet needs to be written together. The report therefore recommends that a Northern Spatial Plan should be produced to guide and co-ordinate integrated development and a Northern Infrastructure Strategy should be developed to ensure the infrastructure development enables the North to experience balanced growth and improved productivity. According to an ONS 2016 study[1], there are 97 local and regional administrative bodies in the North of England and therefore the ICE report supports the creation of a Council for the North. I believe this council could potentially be better described as a ‘Cabinet for the North’ which would draw together LEPs, metro Mayors and Leaders of local authorities with the aim to identify infrastructure need, ensure the North’s networks are integrated and resilient and maximise investment.

Skills

With so much being written about the growing ‘skills gap’ within the construction industry, the need for an appropriately skilled work force is continually discussed. Rather than focus on specific training initiatives, the report highlights the ONS 2017 study[2] that shows the North of England is more dependant on ‘homegrown’ skilled workers than the rest of the country and there is a need to ensure a suitable co-ordination of skills programmes aligned with the ‘Northern Spatial Plan’ and ‘Northern Infrastructure Strategy’. The report therefore recommends that the provision of lifelong learning and development should be co-ordinated to ensure the North has the necessary skills to deliver its infrastructure investment program.

Funding

There is no way to discuss improving infrastructure without discussing money and this report is no different. However, rather than write a shopping list of projects and be perceived as the North going cap in hand to government for all the funding, the report recommends a two-stage approach to funding the infrastructure strategy and challenges us all to consider how best to encourage private investment in the region. With productivity levels around 25% lower than the English average[3] and the struggle the North would have to be fiscally independent at this current point in time the report recommends (as part one of the two stage approach) that to kick-start its economic resurgence, central Government should increase the level of infrastructure investment in the North. Following this, in the medium to long term, the report recommends that to enable the North to fund growth from its own resources central Government should devolve sufficient revenue raising and borrowing powers. Finally, the report recommends the North should adopt a more proactive and ambitious approach to encouraging private investment in the region to enable all development being government led.

What Next?

Cundall is hosting an event in Newcastle, attended by some of the report steering committee and other leading industry professionals, to discuss the report recommendations in more detail on Tuesday 23rd January 2018. If you want to know more about the event, the recommendations or the report in general please do not hesitate to get in touch with Natalie Groves, n.groves@cundall.com.

 

[1] ONS (2016)) ‘Local Authority District to County (December 2016) Lookup in England’

[2] ONS (2017) ‘Number of workers in each skill level by nationality group and region

[3] TfN (2016) ‘Transport, productivity and rebalancing the UK’

 

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Jonathan Smith, Structural Engineering, Uncategorized, Working at Cundall

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