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A brave new world for infrastructure in the UK?

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Posted by James Driver on 29th Mar 2018

How does Transforming Infrastructure Performance tie in with the Construction Sector Deal and other programmes like Project 13 and TIES? What would the brave new world look like for infrastructure in the UK?

Keith Waller Senior Adviser at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority gives his insight:  

In December 2017, the IPA published Transforming Infrastructure Performance (TIP), a plan to boost productivity and improve the performance of the UK’s infrastructure.  

It targets better social, economic and environmental outcomes from infrastructure investment, better services for users and better value for money for taxpayers. Importantly, it also seeks to embed improved commercial approaches which support a productive, innovative and profitable supply chain.

The ambitions set out in TIP are aligned with other strategic programmes across government and industry, including the Industrial Strategy and the Construction Leadership Council’s Sector Deal, the Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy and the Infrastructure Client Group’s Project 13.

If TIP and these other programmes transform the infrastructure sector in the UK, what would that look like?  What would the ideal decision-making, delivery models and operational strategies be?

  • There would be improved decisions on what to prioritise, what and how to build, with clarity of whole life costs, performance and the wider benefits to be delivered to users and society.
  • New commercial models would support innovation, boost competitiveness with a strong and productive UK supply chain that delivers safely and predictably.
  • The productivity and sustainability of not just the construction sector, but of the wider economy would be boosted.  Investment would be attracted at all levels of the industry and the competitive advantage of UK firms would increase.
  • Intelligent infrastructure assets would perform measurably better through their whole life, meeting exacting standards of sustainability, resilience and availability – and would support the government’s wider social economic and environmental objectives for the UK.

Let’s consider a hypothetical major new infrastructure programme in the future.

The programme is proposed in response to meeting a strategic need identified in the National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment.  It has clear outcomes identified which meet the infrastructure need, support the government’s wider socio-economic and environmental objectives, as well as deliver the needs of the local communities and users it will serve.

Bench marking for better performance

These outcomes will define the benefits to be delivered and the operational performance over the whole life of the project.  Both outcomes and costs of delivery will be benchmarked against widely understood and established measures of cost, schedule and performance. As options for meeting these outcomes are developed and assessed, the benchmarks will play a clear role in decision making.  

Alignment and Integration

With both direct and indirect impacts being considered, the programme will optimise opportunities from interdependencies across sectors and assets to support the wider benefits.

There will be a strong and productive industry ready to engage and shape the solution.  The market will have a clear understanding of the in-service outcomes and needs of users and asset owners.  It will work collaboratively with clients to develop the optimum commercial solution and approach for both delivery and operation.

Procuring for growth

Procurement will support commercial models which incentivise a long term collaborative approach based on value added not just services delivered.  These business and commercial relationships will incentivise investment in research and development, innovation and skills, not simply drive to an unsustainable low initial price.  In such a mature relationship, suppliers will understand their clients business needs and clients will understand the cost drivers in their suppliers (not just “the price” of the contracted service).

Smarter infrastructure

Capital delivery will become more productive, technology-enabled and sustainable.  Greater proportions of infrastructure will be manufactured offsite to a higher, predictable quality. New skills will be created in hubs away from traditional construction sites.  Site labour, waste, vehicle movements and carbon will all reduce. Delivery will be increasingly predictable in terms of time, cost and quality.

Technology will support better, safer delivery and more effective operation.  Smart sensors, big data and artificial intelligence will be exploited to optimise all phases of the design, construction and operation.  Assurance processes throughout the investment lifecycle measure, support better outcomes and are fed back to inform future investment decisions.

Productivity improvements

As a result, the UK’s construction and overall productivity improves.  The new skills and capabilities in UK industry will support export markets and continue to attract investment.

Clearly we are not there yet. But we are already seeing pockets of this best practice take place across the sector, such as the procurement at Bank Station, alliancing behaviours at Anglian Water and offsite construction on Crossrail.  The challenge now is to build on these examples so that current best practice becomes business as usual in the future.

Government and industry are taking steps to begin the journey to this future ideal for UK infrastructure.  With the IPA’s TIP programme, we have set out an ambitious programme for change. Now we need the input and support from across infrastructure professionals and industry to begin the transformation to high performing infrastructure.

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