Infrastructure is absolutely vital to the UK being successful going forward.
Dr Diana Montgomery has one key message for the government this conference season, “just get on with things”.
The chief executive of the Construction Products Association, a member of the Infrastructure Alliance is talking about investment in infrastructure.
The Alliance, made up of the four leading engineering and construction bodies representing the £20billion a year infrastructure industry, know a thing or two about what is needed.
“Infrastructure is absolutely vital to the UK being successful going forward,” says Montgomery.
Referring to the recent Global Competitiveness Ranking, released by the World Economic forum in which the quality of the UK's infrastructure was ranked 24th, Montgomery says we are, “relying on infrastructure that was built between the Victorian era and the second world war.”
Montgomery's advice to the government is to rebalance spending from current to capital spend, which includes investment in infrastructure.
“If just a very small amount of money was switched to capital spend, it starts to have a huge impact.
“It means our businesses are able to operate better, and increase their competitiveness.”
Government has already started to invest in some infrastructure such as rail, but Montgomery notes that most infrastructure projects are “a slow burn”.
“With something like HS2 it is going to take a very long while for it to involve spades in the ground.
“It is about putting investment in now that starts to deliver towards 2018.”
In terms of energy, Montgomery calls on the government to “push on” and invest in new nuclear build.
“Where is energy going to be generated come 2018, when the current batch of nuclear power stations shut?” She asks.
Aside from the energy generation itself, she highlights the jobs and investment that could be provided through the building of new nuclear power stations.
“Each nuclear power station that will be built is the same amount of investment and jobs as an Olympic Park.”
The planning system in the UK is often cited as a hindrance to companies looking to invest.
“I don't think planning helps. Our major companies contrast the time it takes to get planning permission in this country compared to mainland Europe.
“If you are a foreign headquartered company and you have an investment to make, in the UK it could take six to seven years to get planning permission, compared with two to three years in other countries.
“Ultimately the planning system needs to be simpler.”
The Alliance, made up of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), Construction Products Association and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), is according to Montgomery, about “providing a holistic message” on infrastructure.
“Infrastructure touches everybody from energy through to transport, through to technology,” she says.
The Alliance would like to see a model for private investment in infrastructure. The government itself has talked about needing £200 billion over the next five years.
“We need a model that works and provides a sustainable return on investment to the likes of pension funds,” says Montgomery.
“There has been some initial investment in the UK, but it is critical that there is a mechanism there and we start to move forward, so that it can begin to deliver successfully.”
In the short term, the Alliance would like the government, or more specifically local authorities to concentrate on repair and maintenance of infrastructure.
“It doesn't need huge amounts of investment, it can start immediately,” says Montgomery.
The Infrastructure Alliance is holding receptions at all three of the autumn party conferences, and a panel discussion at Conservative Party Conference.
The panel will feature, Anthony Hilton of the Evening Standard as Chair. Heather Wheeler MP, Dr Richard Wellings of the Institute of Economic Affairs and Councillor Mike Whitby, the Leader of the Conservative Group for Birmingham City Council.