The UK’s stretched infrastructure is hampering economic re-balancing and progress on Government’s target to double exports to £1tn a year by 2020. EEF’s CEO Terry Scuoler talks through the findings of the organisation’s first transport survey.
We urgently need to take the politics out of infrastructure, reassess investment priorities and be bolder on big issues like airport capacity and funding Britain’s road network.
Investing in the nation’s transport network would give the economy a shot in the arm and lay the foundations for competitiveness tomorrow. Quality infrastructure lowers the cost of doing business, helps attract inward investment and provides access to international markets.
The road network is the backbone of the economy. Four-fifths of manufacturers identify it as business-critical. It underpins everything from moving goods and raw materials in a lean fashion to accessing labour. But high levels of congestion on key arteries and poor maintenance for many local roads are adversely impacting operations. More than half of firms report significantly increased operating costs and nearly a third a loss of productivity as a result.
“Getting transport policy behind efforts to grow the economy means tackling longstanding issues – chiefly, political prevarication, skewed investment priorities and lack of ambition” – Terry Scuoler, CEO at EEF
And it’s not just roads letting business down. Aviation connects the UK to the global marketplace. Three-quarters of export-intensive manufacturers identify aviation infrastructure as important to new business opportunities and half of foreign-owned firms, representing a significant proportion of UK manufacturing, say it is key when deciding where to invest.
Getting transport policy behind efforts to grow the economy means tackling long-standing issues – chiefly, political prevarication, skewed investment priorities and lack of ambition.
Step one is to establish an independent infrastructure commission – an apolitical body tasked with identifying Britain’s long-term needs and forging political consensus on major infrastructure issues.
Step two is getting our investment priorities right. A greater share of public spending on transport infrastructure should be allocated to roads, on targeted projects for maintenance and upgrades.
Step three is being bolder and acting faster. All options for funding investment in the road network, including road pricing, should be considered. The timetables for HS2 and the Airports Commission need to be accelerated. Bringing forward the latter will give the next government a clear mandate for progressing its favoured airport capacity option. In EEF’s opinion, there is a strong case for additional runway capacity at Heathrow.
The Budget was a missed opportunity to up the ante on infrastructure with no additional spending announced on infrastructure before 2015 despite an £11bn ‘underspend’ by Whitehall last year. Britain deserves better.