While to many, the formal status of the commission may seem moot, others may see its proximity and subservience to HM Treasury as a potential hindrance to its supposed independence.
Documents published by the Treasury yesterday1 set out the role and remit of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), namely to provide the government with impartial, expert advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges. It has been operating in interim form since October 2015 and was established permanently as an executive agency of HM Treasury on 24th January 2017.
The role of the NIC, as set out in its corporate plan, is to provide advice and make independent recommendations to government on national infrastructure priorities. Ministers will retain sole responsibility for deciding whether to endorse the NIC’s recommendations, and for deciding how any recommendations might be taken forward as policy.
The NIC’s core responsibilities are to produce:
- a National Infrastructure Assessment once in every Parliament, setting out the NIC’s assessment of long-term infrastructure needs with recommendations to the government;
- specific studies on pressing infrastructure challenges as set by the government taking into account the views of the NIC and stakeholders. These studies will include recommendations to the government; and
- an annual monitoring report, taking stock of the government’s progress in areas where it has committed to taking forward recommendations of the NIC.
The first National Infrastructure Assessment is to be published in spring 2018.
The stated objectives of the NIC are to:
(i) support sustainable economic growth across all regions of the UK,
(ii) improve competitiveness and (iii) improve quality of life. It does this by:
- assessing national infrastructure needs, carrying out in-depth studies into the UK’s most pressing infrastructure challenges, and making recommendations to the government; and
- monitoring the government’s progress in delivering infrastructure projects and programmes recommended by the NIC.
As at 24th January 2016, the commission had seven commisioners (board members) and 32 staff, led by chief executive Philip Graham, a career civil servant from the Department of Transport.
Civil engineering contractors have a lot of faith in the NIC and expect great things from it. Marie-Claude Hemming, head of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said on the publication of the documents: “These are the next steps for the commission, which will enable it to deliver a comprehensive roadmap that identifies and delivers on Britain’s infrastructure priorities. Historically, the development of infrastructure in the UK has lacked long-term strategy, which has led to delays in the delivery of large projects. We look forward to engaging with the NIC as it works towards delivering its first National Infrastructure Assessment Vision & Priorities document in the summer.
“The NIC will provide expert, impartial analysis of the long-term infrastructure needs of the UK, which will be best delivered by consultation and collaborative working with industry. This is the best means of ensuring the UK’s infrastructure truly meets the expectations of business and the general public, and supports economic growth in the years to come.”
1. The NIC Framework document is available at: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/585374/NIC_framework_document_web.pdf.
The NIC Corporate Plan 2017-18 to 2019-20 is available at: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/585085/NIC_corporate_plan_web.pdf.