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Infrastructure

UK faces major infrastructure crisis, MPs warn

The UK Government and the wider economy do not have the necessary skills and capacity to deliver ambitious infrastructure plans over the next five years, according to a report released by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The report highlights significant shortages in technical and engineering disciplines, with gaps in the workforce expected to worsen due to competition from global development projects.

Project management and design are also areas of concern, especially in senior roles.

Of the 16,000 project professionals needing accreditation from the Government’s Major Project Leadership Academy, only 1,000 had achieved this by the time of the report, raising fears that scarcity of skilled professionals could drive up costs.

In March 2023, the Government Major Projects Portfolio included 244 projects with an estimated total cost of £805 billion.

The PAC’s inquiry noted that this scale of investment is unprecedented, with projected spending over the next five years focusing on sectors such as road, rail and energy.

Despite the substantial investment, the PAC expressed concern that government departments are not dedicating sufficient time and effort to maximise the value of these projects.

Only 8% of the £432 billion spent on major projects in 2019 had robust impact evaluation plans, with around two-thirds lacking any plans.

High-quality evaluations are crucial for providing evidence of what works, demonstrating value, and supporting future investment decisions.

The report acknowledges some examples of effective cross-government collaboration, which is essential for delivering complex projects.

However, the PAC believes more must be done to encourage departments to work together consistently across all projects.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, stated: “Over the coming years, government spending on major infrastructure projects is set to rise to unprecedented levels.

“Such projects present unique and novel challenges which Government must navigate if it is to secure value for public money.

“Without a robust market for essential skills in place, these are challenges the UK will fail to meet, as shortages push costs up in a globally competitive environment.

“All too often we see projects and programmes that are poorly managed and delivered late and over budget. The failure to ensure projects have robust impact evaluation plans in place is symptomatic of the short-term mentality dominating these processes.”

Commenting on the report, Yselkla Farmer, Chief Executive Officer of BEAMA, said: “Investment in skills across the UK economy is not only essential for success, it is existential when we face a global competition.

“Both investment and skills are critical for the major infrastructure projects that will deliver on our net zero targets and an energy system that is fit for the future.

“Manufacturers are doing the best they can to build their capacity and cultivate talent, but without greater support from the government through a clear and stable policy landscape, the UK will fail to compete in an international market.”

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