Ongoing commitment to infrastructure and bold decisions needed. By Sir John Armitt, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) President
The outcome of the EU referendum has left a question mark over skills, foreign investment, use of codes, standards and regulations, and funding for research – all the things which are core to delivering the county’s infrastructure.
When it comes to pan-European codes, standards and practices – we are a global industry with a global supply chain. We should not walk away from practices, which create a common framework for trade, and help us do business all over the world. The UK’s record on transparency and fair procurement processes also signifies the strength of the UK market and I see no reason why this would not continue.
The answer to the question around skills is less clear. The sector already faces a shortage. UK infrastructure businesses employ many thousands of EU citizens and rely on the ability to bring in specialist skills. We have some major projects in the future pipeline, but industry also needs to be confident that it can get hold of the skills needed for the work in the pipeline over the next few years.
The issue of free movement in a Brexit world is extremely complex, politically charged, and requires careful consideration. Politicians and officials leading the exit negotiations must be equipped with the facts – on the likely impact on the sector’s skills supply, costs and capability, but also on the key issues surrounding infrastructure investment, and on what the UK will need to maintain its status as world leader in engineering research.
Our industry must work together to ensure these negotiations are informed. ICE is well placed to bring the sectortogether and channel its collective expertise through a single voice, and I am pleased to have established a Leadership Group to drive this forward, including experts from Atkins, Pinsent Masons, RICS, Skanska, Aecom, KPMG, BSI and the Construction Leadership Council.
The group will gather expert knowledge, data and evidence on what it agrees are the fundamental issues facing the sector, and provide compelling evidence based briefings to negotiators. It will liaise with politicians and civil servants and appoint other industry experts to assist them. Ultimately our aim is to help negotiate the best possible deal for the country. This is an unprecedented situation, and joining forces will help us to identify not only the risks we face as an industry, but the opportunities.
The new Government must play its part and continue to foster belief that the UK is a growing economy and a place, which offers a return on investments. This means visibly stepping up and reasserting its commitment to infrastructure, driving plans forwards, and not ducking out of taking bold, strategic decisions on issues that are vital to the UK’s competitiveness.
Looking ahead, the UK remains a part of the EU for at least another two years. This makes thework of the National Infrastructure Commission even more important. Its longer-term approach to the major investment decisions facing the country, its unbiased analysis and the cross party support behind its aim, will give investors much needed certainty on our future direction.