The state of the UK’s infrastructure has been a growing concern for over two-thirds of the country’s manufacturers, impacting their ability to conduct business effectively, reveals a survey conducted by Make UK, the main trade body representing the sector. Over 60% of the 150 respondents expressed the view that the government should prioritize investments in roads and 5G broadband. Local rail infrastructure upgrades were also considered a crucial issue, Financial Times warns.
The survey found that 68% of companies believe that the quality of the UK’s national infrastructure has deteriorated in the past decade. Meanwhile, 57% of respondents reported that local networks have also worsened over the same period.
Mike Thornton, partner and head of manufacturing at RSM, the audit firm involved in conducting the survey, emphasized that the quality of infrastructure is a key criterion for businesses when choosing their locations. Other critical factors include a country’s tax and regulatory framework and access to skilled workers. Thornton stressed that manufacturers have made their infrastructure needs clear and urged the government to prioritize this aspect.
These findings coincide with recent calls from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), a government advisory board, for increased investment in transportation, energy, and water networks. In its second five-yearly assessment, the NIC recommended a substantial boost in infrastructure investment, aiming to raise it from an average of £55 billion per year to £80 billion annually in the 2030s, with more than half of this funding coming from the private sector.
Interestingly, the Make UK survey showed that its members believe “infrastructure changes should be delivered by the state to ensure that agents of the economy can perform as efficiently as possible.” Additionally, more than half of the respondents suggested that local authorities should take responsibility for infrastructure investment, as they are likely to have a better understanding of what works in their areas.
These calls for increased investment in infrastructure come in the wake of recent government cutbacks in major rail and road projects, further underscoring the urgency of addressing the issue.
Recently, the UK government made a controversial decision to cancel plans for the northern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line, which would have connected Birmingham and Manchester. Furthermore, concerns have arisen about the completion of the southern section of HS2, extending from Birmingham to London, with doubts emerging about the proposed terminus at Euston in central London. The government indicated that this project would only proceed if it could secure private investment to fund it.
In March, the government also announced delays in various road schemes, including the ambitious £9 billion road tunnel under the Thames, known as the Lower Thames Crossing, the £320 million A27 Arundel bypass, and the £250 million Rimsrose Valley bypass in Liverpool.
Although the government recently pledged to allocate up to £8 billion to address the issue of potholes in the country’s roads, a report by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) earlier this year revealed that the backlog of road repairs had reached record levels, and the “structural conditions continue to decline.”
The AIA’s findings indicated that 11% of the local road network across England and Wales was categorized as being in poor condition and likely to require maintenance within the next year. Alarmingly, the report highlighted that local roads are now resurfaced less frequently than once every century, emphasizing the critical need for infrastructure investment.
Noble Francis, the economics director at the Construction Products Association, criticized the government’s apparent lack of action despite its consistent emphasis on the importance of infrastructure for economic growth, productivity, and competitiveness. He noted that there is a significant gap between these strategic promises and the actual delivery of improvements.
A study earlier this year by the Resolution Foundation estimated that rectifying the under-investment in infrastructure dating back to the 1970s would require an annual investment equivalent to 1.6% of GDP over the next two decades, amounting to approximately £40 billion annually. These findings underscore the pressing need for a comprehensive and sustained approach to address the UK’s infrastructure challenges, not only to support its economic growth but also to ensure the safety and efficiency of its transportation networks.