30 November 2020

Let's be honest as a profession we struggle when it comes to delivering the ambitions we set out in our strategy documents. 

We get frustrated with the time it takes to see an idea taken forward into development and to then secure the funding that enables it to be delivered.  Little wonder that the communities and businesses we serve also get frustrated.   Not only does the delay in delivering infrastructure increase its cost, it delays the point at which we begin to realise the economic benefits that flow from it.  And of course there are all the costs incurred – both financial and human – preparing the business case supporting a proposal: not forgetting the (avoidable) additional costs incurred when having to rerun the business case for yet another bidding round when the first pitch comes up short.

As a profession we have to do better – our communities and businesses expect us to do better.  The good news is there is a better way: and our work on the regional Transport Strategy gives us the basis for making it happen.

The regional Transport Strategy is evidence-led: our understanding of the baseline situation enables us to identify the infrastructure required to deliver an agreed strategic ambition.  Our leadership on wider strategic infrastructure enables us to align strategic transport priorities, with requirements for improvements in digital and energy infrastructure, truly enabling us to focus on delivering a place-based approach.

And here's where we need the change to happen: we need the Government to provide each region with an indicative funding allocation.  We've seen how Network Rail and Highways England benefit from having clarity on their funding: the Major Road Network started to bring a similar approach to local authority roads.

Clarity on the level of funding available ensures that the prioritised Investment Pipeline that flows from the Transport Strategy is affordable.  Scheme promoters will have confidence that the funding needed to deliver their proposal will be there when they need it, allowing them to allocate the resources needed to develop the proposal and secure any permissions required.  The additional costs incurred by needing to prepare proposals as part of a bidding process are immediately avoided, to the benefit of the taxpayer: development work is done once and costs are incurred once.

The clarity provided by indicative funding allocation brings additional benefits.  Communities and businesses can be confident that enabling infrastructure will be there when it is needed, not after the event.  The honesty provided by having an indicative funding allocation will encourage innovation as we look to maximise the impact of the monies available.  And clarity on the public sector funding available will enable scheme promoters to work with the private sector to leverage additional investment.

Complementing the Investment Pipeline is the establishment of a regional centre of excellence, hosting specialist skills and knowledge upon which our partners are able to draw on as they develop schemes to the point that they are ready for delivery.  Working with our partners we've identified the importance of having access to such skills in the early stages of any new scheme proposal.  Getting the scope of the work right at that stage will save time and de-risk scheme development.  Retaining the accumulated knowledge and experience within the region will ensure that our approach to delivery is one of continuous improvement.

The publication of the regional Transport Strategy and the basis on which it has been prepared makes it easy to adopt this new approach to delivery.

The associated Investment Pipeline brings clarity with regards to the funding required to deliver our vision and achieve our strategic ambition. 

It allows for a more honest conversation with Government as to the level of funding required to support our plans for economic and housing growth.  As a country we know that the level of investment in infrastructure is not at the levels of our international competitors. 

It is right to be ambitious about the future: but that ambition needs to be backed by a commitment to invest.  We need the clarity provided by the regional Transport Strategy to simplify processes and remove inertia from the development of proposals.  And in so doing we will address the issue of delivery.

Martin Tugwell is Programme Director, England's Economic Heartland