With the Party-political conference season all over, we have now all heard the promises from the politicians about what they will do post the General Election that is due to come sometime in the next year.
Alongside the plenary speeches and fringe discussions, we have also had the news that HS2 will be curtailed and the Second National Infrastructure Commissions Assessment, led by Sir John Armitt. Although there has been much to digest, the key takeouts from the last few weeks for me have been clear– we need more investment in our infrastructure, we need energy security for this investment and a clear commitment from government – whatever colour that government is.
In the midst of all of this, I attended EXPO REAL in Germany, a mega event that provides “a comprehensive overview of developments, topics, innovations and solutions in the real estate industry”with both my UK and German RLB colleagues. What became very apparent as I met the 1,000s of other delegates there and talked to colleagues old and new, is the amount of investment heading towards Poland and other European countries. And it made me stop and think, regardless of the politicians’ promises, what is it we need to do to ensure the UK attracts investment both from domestic sources as well as those abroad?
Firstly, it is clear to me as a professional working in both the construction sector and the Logistics and Manufacturing arena, how we need policy outside of party politics that really shapes our built environment and an industrial strategy that outlines our commitment and drives investment in the UK. I am not alone, only recently the lobbying group Make UK CEO Stephen Phipson wrote in the Guardian, “A lack of proper, planned, industrial strategy is the UK’s Achilles Heel, every other major economy from Germany, to China, to the US, has a long-term national manufacturing plan, underlying the importance of an industrial base to the success of its wider economy.” And Financial Times writer, Yuan Yang commented in the FT, “But we have also long neglected what the economist Karel Williams has termed the ‘foundational economy’ and what feminist economists call ‘social infrastructure’ the parts of the economy that supply everyday necessities, such as social care, education, food, housing and utilities.”
Infrastructure is a key component of social mobility, to levelling up and to creating wealth for our nation. Yet so often we fail to invest in the long-term, fearing the economies of change or the impact of the investment on party voting. I see every day in my role as RLB’s Head of Logistics and Manufacturing that when we build roads, construct railways, and create airports we allow those in underdeveloped areas and rural areas to travel to areas for work, increasing their ability to gain employment. We also know that these roads and railways create routes for our trucks and freight to travel, to allow us to trade more efficiently and effectively. And at the same time, we are creating a country where outside investment sees opportunity. However, this infrastructure needs long term vision – sometimes 20, 50, 100-years of masterplanning – and investment and commitment that goes past the five-year political cycle. We need an industrial strategy that outlines this commitment.
Change can be good but change needs to be part of a long-term plan, a measured, thought-out process. And for this longevity, we need to change the way we think about our spaces and the processes we have in place around how we shape these spaces. We need to provide access to land and balance our community’s desire for Amazon and Uber to provide next day delivery with having a warehouse located down the road. And of course, we need to change our planning system so that strategic, long term infrastructure investments aren’t caught in the quagmire of domestic applications. We need to make it easy for the next Gigafactory to be built in the UK rather than abroad, and we need to think about the benefits of that factory on our economy, social mobility, growth of our towns and cities and the wealth of our nation. The UK has just been announced to be the 8th largest global manufacturer which, contrary to some opinion, shows we know how to manufacture here in the UK, and we have the environment to create amazing manufacturing facilities. Yet we need to ensure that this message is loud and clear to those who are planning and developing these factories – that the UK is open for business.
Whatever happens in the next 15 months and whatever colour party gets into 10 Downing Street, I hope that the Department for Business and Trade makes it their number one priority to commit to an industrial strategy, to lay the foundations for the future, and to tell the rest of the world that they have done just this – not just through words but through actions too.