A lot has happened in the UK in the last six months – the political uncertainty has settled down with the decisive outcome of the General Election in December 2019 and Brexit means we are no longer part of the European Union. For those of us working in infrastructure, having more clarity about the future has come as some relief.
However, there is now much to do. As the UK becomes more independent, cutting its economic umbilical cord with Europe, we need to look at our island and assess our role in the efforts to rebalance the economy. Critical to this endeavour will be rebalancing investment in low carbon, digitally enabled, highly efficient infrastructure across all of the great cities of the UK. This includes bringing a better balance to STEM skills and infrastructure capability too.
For a nation made up of four countries, 37 dialects and 69 cities, London still remains the capital – not only in terms of its positioning within that union as the home of Central Government, but in terms of infrastructure capability and greater concentration of higher-earning skills, just by the sheer number of those nine million living in a small radius. This isn’t to say there aren’t great resources and skill sets outside of London and the South capable of delivering significant infrastructure. However, capacity to deliver projects the magnitude of HS2 and other extensive infrastructure projects remains skewed towards Greater London and the South of England.
This capability imbalance must, and will be, addressed. With the long-term opportunities that will be contained within the soon to be published National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) we will have an unprecedented visible pipeline of work. For the highest impact on the long-term economic benefit to the UK, this investment should be focused in the Midlands and North of England. If the NIS is aligned with the ambitious plans of our Metro Mayors and other city region leaders, we will have a real catalyst for change that will drive the levelling up of skills and earnings.
Whilst it is hugely important to improve connectivity around our major conurbations, especially East to West, we all have to rise to the challenge of taking the long-term view in attracting all forms of talent to our industry and investing heavily in training and development to prepare for the future. By upskilling, increasing capacity and capability of the workforce, we can become far more self-sufficient and less reliant on resources from the South East. Surely by doing this the by-product will be an increased efficiency, keeping greater revenue in the regions and reversing the regional pay gap in the UK.
With many of the obstacles for green lighting investment now removed, we need to work collaboratively as a country and an industry to become more efficient. We need to work together as a nation to share our resources and level out the playing field finally.