If any in the infrastructure industry had thought that Christmas had come early this year, following last month’s creation of the National Infrastructure Commission, then they may have been tested a little by last week’s rather sudden demise of Infrastructure UK.
Of course, the government’s stated intent is that IUK’s good work will be carried forward by the newly created Infrastructure and Projects Authority, born from its merger with the Major Projects Authority.
Mr Osborne described this merger as “the next stage in our plan to ensure Britain’s economy gets the transformational projects it needs”.
Most would acknowledge that the prospects for the nation’s infrastructure have clearly benefitted in recent years from a sustained focus on long-term strategic planning.
Equally, many would argue that we have had plans aplenty, and that the next stage should be a relentless focus on actual implementation of the national pipeline (a task which is unlikely to get any easier as we rapidly approach a Spending Review that will continue to be defined by austerity).
To be fair, implementation seems to be what the government has in mind for the IPA, to judge from the limited explanation so far given for the merger, with its emphasis on combining expertise in financing, delivery and assurance.
The implication seems to be that the IPA will be a more technocratic body, leaving the strategic heavy lifting to be shouldered by the big beasts of the National Infrastructure Commission (assuming, of course, that HMT finds the Commission’s recommendations acceptable, once they come to fruition).
This approach has a logic, but there was also a good case to argue that IUK was already well placed to fulfil this role, and would have done so with the benefit of continuity and recognition within the industry.
Conversely, every restructuring and relocation inevitably diverts some of the energy and resources of an organisation away from its external objectives and towards internal dynamics and politics.
It is reasonable to assume that the migration of IUK to its new identity and home in the Cabinet Office may not be immune to this.
At a time, therefore, when it sometimes seems that infrastructure has never had a higher profile on the national stage (at least, not since the Victorian age), both the Commission and the Authority will want to be seen to be moving quickly and decisively to establish their credentials as drivers of project delivery, rather than being perceived as the next instalment of an already lengthy process of reports, evidence and plans