By Nathan Coyne
Successive British governments have demonstrated a "total abrogation of leadership" in their approach to infrastructure development in the UK, a leading construction industry official said today.
Mike Napier, a strategy director at engineering firm Costain, made the comments at the launch of a report showing that the UK's GDP would receive a £100 billion boost if our infrastructure was brought up to the standards of competitor economies.
The report, written for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), also showed that UK GDP could have been five per cent higher on average every year between 2000 and 2010 if infrastructure investment had matched other leading economies.
Instead this period was marked by significant underinvestment "at a time when public finances were healthy", according to Charles Davis, head of macroeconomics at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), the organisation that carried out the research.
Echoing the lack of leadership theme, Davis said that it was "absurd that we're taking so long to make a decision over something like Heathrow".
UK infrastructure quality is "outside of the Premier League" due to a £13 billion shortfall in investment which can be traced to 2003 when infrastructure construction output fell from 0.8% of GDP, where it had been since the late 1980s, to 0.5% of GDP.
The report's author, Cebr economist Daniel Solomon, also revealed that for every 1,000 jobs created in infrastructure construction, employment as a whole rises by 3,050 jobs.
Every £1 billion increase in infrastructure investment sees a corresponding £1.3 billion rises in UK-wide GDP, and every £1 billion of infrastructure construction increases overall economic activity by £2.842 billion.
Alasdair Reisner, CECA director of external affairs, said: "If we are talking about a global race, we are giving our competitors a ten yard head start and that can't be sensible for our economy."
The recent closure of the Hammersmith flyer and the Hatfield colliery landslip, which has forced the closure of a key rail link until July, were cited as examples of what happens when our infrastructure crumbles.
CECA laid out a number of recommendations for the government to improve UK infrastructure investment moving forward, including that it never again falls below 0.8% of GDP and that it should be increased to above one per cent over the next five years to help close the gap.
Other recommendations included making it easier to finance infrastructure projects and providing a clear commitment to a long-term energy policy.
And on the day that TfL, the Mayor of London and Network Rail launched their consultation on the route of Crossrail 2, CECA also called for an "early commitment" from the government to start work on it once the existing Tube upgrade programme is complete.
CECA also called for the creation of a new independent body to "analyse strategic challenges facing the UK" and take the politics out of infrastructure decisions.
But former Labour transport minister John Spellar disagreed, saying we should not go down the route of "institutional and structural change" and that independent bodies would be "diversions" from the core task of making decisions and getting funding in place.