The latest survey of the UK’s business community by lobby group the CBI and accountants KPMG makes gloomy reading. “The report, Connect More, highlights the importance of infrastructure to sustainable UK growth, yet with many outstanding issues such as the future funding of the road network, aviation capacity and clarity over the costs of HS2, businesses expect things to get worse over the next five years,” the CBI says.
The CBI/KPMG survey of 526 business leaders found that dissatisfaction with domestic transport has jumped from 28% in 2011 (when the first survey was carried out) to a fairly depressing 49% in 2013. “With relatively few projects underway on the ground and no action on long-term road reform, there is widespread expectation that local roads and motorways will deteriorate over the next five years,” it says.
“The faltering speed of delivery on infrastructure creates a worrying sense that politicians lack the political will to tackle some of the major issues head-on,” John Cridland, CBI director-general said at the report’s launch. “We can’t afford any further delay. The Coalition must show strong leadership and prove that the UK can deliver on a small number of projects over the next 18 months and reach a much-needed consensus on bigger issues such as aviation and roads reform.”
The CBI is therefore calling on the Government “to complete all feasibility studies for road and rail projects outlined in the Spending Review and commit to detailed plans for delivery, while starting the debate on longer-term road reform by conducting an audit of the state of the road network and its costs to operate”.
The need for a comprehensive delivery plan for new transport infrastructure, rather than a ‘shopping list’ of individual schemes, was emphasised by one of the country’s biggest insurance companies, Aviva. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Paul Abberley, the company’s head of investments, noted that less than £1bn of Aviva’s £230bn fund is currently invested in UK infrastructure. And the reason for this? “The absence of a proper pipeline of projects,” apparently. “If you look at the National Infrastructure Plan, is that an actionable plan or just a list of stuff we need?” Abberley asked rhetorically.
One small crumb of comfort for the Government’s transport department is that, despite all of the above, transport isn’t the business community’ biggest headache at the moment, with energy having overtaken transport since 2012 as the biggest future concern for businesses.