Members of the ICE policy and public affairs team have been at this year's conference in Liverpool to promote the work of the Institution to opposition politicians and industry alike.
Like much of the recent political debate, the conference was dominated by the theme of Brexit, with different scenarios for the UK’s breakaway from the EU played out and debated across several fringe events.
Skills and investment remain Brexit priorities
Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, ICE’s view, which the team expressed at a number of the fringes, remains two-fold. Access to investment and skills are both critical for the UK’s infrastructure sector.
The UK has benefited hugely from investment made by the European Investment Bank (EIB). Indeed, during the period 2012-2016 the EIB invested over €30bn in UK projects, with much of this going directly to infrastructure projects. Yet, in 2017 the total amount of investment was a mere €1.8bn. A dramatic and worrying reduction in finance.
It’s also important to note that the EIB is an anchor investor. In this respect, it’s not the amount of finance that it’s previously injected into UK projects that’s key, but rather its ability to attract the involvement of other investors in innovative and perhaps slightly riskier projects.
Continued access to EIB finance or the creation of a UK institution to undertake this function, should this not be possible, is a must in a post-Brexit world.
The availability of labour and skilled workers to deliver key infrastructure projects is also a priority.
Currently EU nationals represent 27% of London’s construction workforce, while there are approximately 200,000 EU construction workers in the UK in total.
The National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline (NICP) details the scale of the UK’s skills need at a projects level.
Any post-Brexit immigration system should use the NICP as a primary reference point in determining what access EU construction workers have to the UK jobs market. This would be an evidence-based and therefore sensible approach to take.
Delivering a successful industrial strategy
ICE policy staff were also able to participate in two roundtable discussions organised by the Centre for Cities and Chartered Institute of Building, respectively.
The focus of the latter was on the steps required to deliver an effective industrial strategy.
Questions and challenges that were discussed included a) What difficulties is the construction industry currently experiencing? b) How can the industry’s problems be relieved?
Productivity levels in construction and the wider built environment sector are poor, while there’s no escaping that projects are often completed over budget and behind schedule.
To deliver a successful industrial strategy, a new and improved business model is necessary. One that enables greater collaboration between project partners, where procurement processes are based on long-term outcomes and risk is shared in a more equitable way. ICE is already promoting the case for this new model through the Project 13 initiative.
Next stop: Birmingham
The Labour Party Conference was a success for the ICE policy and public affairs team — new relationships were forged, and our policies were successfully put forward and debated with key decisionmakers.
Our next stop is Birmingham, from 30 September, where we’ll be continuing the hard work at the Conservative Party Conference.