Colas: Devolved Authorities urged to welcome new thinking

roundtable

In mid-October Colas held a round table, in partnership with Transportation Professional Magazine and guest chair industry expert Martin Tugwell. Some of the leading figures from UK Infrastructure gathered for a meeting to discuss the implications of further devolution in the UK.

The general consensus was that devolution offers real opportunities to tackle local transport problems with more appropriate solutions and to test new ways of thinking to help deliver better and more durable infrastructure. The success of devolution will depend on more private investment coming forward to fund public infrastructure.

Significant challenges remain however to ensure that devolution works effectively for those regions that demand a greater say in local investment decisions. Chief among these is encouraging the Government to relinquish more powers over what gets built and allow schemes to be funded using private money.

The theme of sourcing new investment was picked up our Chief Executive Lee Rushbrooke who commented that “Although as a country we may be exiting the EU, there are encouraging signs of overseas investment wanting to come to Britain. The Government must make it easier for this money to arrive.”

Additionally, Transport for London is a great example of how transport devolution can work, highlighted by London School of Economics Professor of Economics Tony Travers, “This should be the starting point for other city regions. We have to convince Whitehall to give up some control and allow local areas to have more freedom to invest and innovate.”

Urban Transport Group Chair and Transport for Greater Manchester Chief Executive Dr Jon Lamonte agreed that London’s example is a great one for other regions to follow “But devolution for the North is a little bit different.” He explained, “Parts of the country that are underperforming economically are looking at this to see how they can combine different bits of government and their outputs – whether it is housing, planning or education – and for transport to be a key enabler.”

A broader point was made by Institution of Civil Engineers Vice President Adrian Coy around devolution, noting a sense of growing excitement around the country for greater power and responsibility to be given to the regions. He warned that England’s lack of a strategic infrastructure plan could be a barrier to progress with this agenda. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have 30 year infrastructure strategies with clear pipelines in place so they can see what projects are coming. This should give England pause for thought.

Introducing more devolved administrations with powers over local transportation services offers greater potential for companies who are looking to promote new products and different ways of working.

Colas CEO Lee Rushbrooke highlighted that “There are barriers to innovative thinking in the UK which need to be overcome and current procurement rules do not always foster a willingness among clients to try new ideas.”

“As a business we pride ourselves on the efforts we make to develop innovative new ideas and we invest in this area every year. I sense that other countries are more welcoming of innovation, I would like to see authorities in the UK having a greater appetite to try new concepts.”

Strategy and Development executive director Carl Fergusson added that the first response he hears from many officials who learn about a suggested new approach is ‘we don’t have any money for innovation.’

Carl adds “we are not asking for money for ideas to be developed; we are asking to be given a chance to implement what we have already come up with. Innovation does not have to cost money and ultimately should have potential to save cost. For Colas innovations and applications often appear from around the globe. They are not just about products and materials, but are about innovations in service and project funding too.”