Government plans to level-up infrastructure need to be well thought through, transparent and responsive to local need, according to a report by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
In the report, the committee has warned that the hundreds of billions dedicated by the government for new infrastructure projects risk being squandered without better co-ordination of local projects, long-term tracking of performance and greater transparency over delivery.
The report, ‘Delivering the Government’s infrastructure commitments through major projects’, calls on Government to clarify its overall aims for major infrastructure spending as soon as possible and provide greater detail on how it will support economic development and regional growth.
‘Move away from the short-term view’
Committee Chair William Wragg, said: “Developing grand infrastructure projects must not become an end in itself and we must move away from the short-term view that measures the value of major projects in terms of whether they are finished on time and at the expected cost.
“As the nation embarks on a period of significant infrastructure spending we must focus on how much they deliver the benefits they set out to achieve and were the basis for being given the go-ahead.
“The government must clarify its overarching aims for this strategy – how infrastructure spending will support economic growth, what ‘levelling up’ means in practice and how they will be achieved.
“We must also see improvement in how projects are developed at a local level. It will be critical not just to get local support for infrastructure projects, but getting local input in identifying problems and developing solutions must be better supported and become a feature of programme development at a much earlier stage.”
“Investing time at the outset to make sure everyone is clear about the aims and proposed benefits, alongside a change in the culture of how major projects are developed and managed, should mean that this transformative change is achievable.”
The right conditions for success
Responding to the report, Association of Project Management (APM) head of external affairs, David Thomson, said: “We welcome the report’s focus on the benefits of well-planned and executed project management as a key to the successful delivery of the government’s major projects.
“We particularly welcome the committee’s focus on having the right investment in skills to ensure this happens, with a narrative on transformational benefits and not just on time and cost factors.
“The committee rightly recognises that ministers need the right skills and decision-making framework to initiate and oversee major projects, and so we welcome the government’s innovative commitment for training for government ministers, as part of a wider cultural change in how major public projects are planned and delivered.”
Thomson added: “Good project outcomes require the right conditions for success, therefore we agree with the committee’s stress on advocating a long-term view.
“We acknowledge the government’s need – due to unprecedented circumstances caused by the coronavirus outbreak – to prioritise short term goals and postpone the launch of the National Infrastructure Strategy.
“Despite this delay, it is vital not to lose sight of the need to properly plan for infrastructure investment and major projects.
“Any ‘surge’ in new projects must be matched by the capability to deliver them well and with the public good in mind.
“We have to ensure the delivery of these projects factor in rapid changes in technological innovation and Government targets to deliver net-zero carbon emissions. A robust National Infrastructure Strategy will be crucial for achieving this.”