Why we need infrastructure investments to get the UK moving again - Beckie Hart

9 January 2020....      Train passengers waiting for a Northern Train service at Leeds City Station . Picture Tony Johnson
9 January 2020.... Train passengers waiting for a Northern Train service at Leeds City Station . Picture Tony Johnson
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It’s January, and you may have already had to suffer through a cancelled train, a packed carriage with standing room only, or a traffic jam that’s cost you a meeting.

Not the best way to start the year and kick off a new decade.

Amongst those returning to their offices are the newly appointed members of the government, with in-trays full of the promises made during a winter election campaign.

Having pledged nothing short of an “infrastructure revolution”, and with a new wave of MPs in traditionally Labour-voting constituencies across the North and Midlands, Boris Johnson’s Government will be under pressure to act quickly.

Indeed, we’ve already seen Metro Mayors and local leaders pushing for their own ‘wish lists’ of regional infrastructure, eager to address the poor connectivity that is currently leaving their region behind and our region is no exception.

One area requiring focus is the commuter experience. A CBI, Porter Novelli and Opinium poll of 2000 employees across the country, found that they lost on average 2.7 hours a week owing to travel disruption and delays.

While this may not sound like much, over the course of a working year, the average employee loses 125 hours, or over five whole days, in the course of a working year thanks to commuting problems. Improvements in how people get to work therefore have the potential to not only improve the UK’s productivity but also our quality of life.

Clearly more investment will be needed, but simply turning on the spending taps is not sufficient.

Businesses want the new Government to deliver certainty through a national infrastructure strategy that sets out how infrastructure will be delivered and a Budget outlining how it will be funded.  

This should be accompanied by a plan for a more accountable and transparent rail system, with greater alignment between those who own the tracks and those who run the trains. 

A plan focused on easing congestion on our roads and delivering seamless connectivity in our towns and cities through expanding smart ticketing, and a plan to make transport systems greener and more affordable for all.

And if the UK is to move up the global infrastructure ranks, the new government must set a vision that attracts business to invest in the UK by seizing the opportunities from technological innovations around mobility and the transition to a net zero economy.

Businesses know that they too have a part to play. They recognise that expensive, stressful and unreliable commuting experiences take a toll on their staff. Yet, employers could do more to make worker’s journeys easier and more productive.

CBI research found that just 16 per cent of employees had been offered a flexible start time to avoid rush hour, and just 23 per cent could decide the hours they work.

To help the UK on this journey, over the next eighteen months the CBI is working with KPMG to outline the type of investments in infrastructure that can tackle the UK’s productivity gap and how Government and business can work together to make the commute greener, more affordable and more reliable for communities across the country.

Over the next few weeks, as the newly appointed ministers make their own commute, businesses across the country want to quickly see the detail behind the grand pledges of the election campaign. Meeting this challenge would not only start to address the UK’s long-standing productivity problem, but perhaps also build trust with those who “lent their vote” at the election and will be expecting a response.

Beckie Hart is regional director of the CBI