Businesses urge relentless government focus on infrastructure

Responses from 568 business leaders during June and July identified transport infrastructure as the area of greatest concern. Nearly three-quarters of firms do not expect to see any improvement in transport infrastructure during the next five years. About two-thirds of businesses also believe the UK’s energy and water infrastructure is unlikely to get any better because of uncertainty about the policy framework. But companies are more positive about the UK’s digital infrastructure, with most seeing improvements both in the last and the next five years.

And a more recent snap poll suggests 60% of businesses think the new UK Guarantees scheme will help to boost investment, kick-starting infrastructure projects and getting diggers on the ground.

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said: “The Government has shown it gets how important infrastructure is to the economy. It has put the framework in place but needs to show it can deliver on the ground.

“The new UK Guarantees are seen as positive by businesses, but firms fear initiative overload and are becoming impatient with delivery, leaving many companies still sceptical about the overall impact on investment.

“Whether it’s aviation capacity, electricity markets or funding our roads, the Government needs to take some big decisions which will have a major, lasting impact on inward investment and businesses’ ability to compete overseas.”

Today’s report is the second annual assessment by the UK’s leading business group and KPMG on the state of the UK’s infrastructure, and its impact on business investment decisions and competitiveness.

The findings show that businesses see the quality and reliability of the UK’s transport networks as more important to their investment decisions than any other infrastructure. Having a high-quality, reliable digital network is also increasingly important, with 7 per cent more firms this year saying they are very significant to their investment decisions.

However, while companies say the UK’s infrastructure compares well with that of emerging markets, it does less well when compared with other EU and developed countries. Nearly two-thirds of companies think the UK’s infrastructure is less favourable than elsewhere in the EU, and over two-fifths say it is worse than in other developed economies outside the EU.

Richard Threlfall, KPMG UK Head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction, said: “Actions speak louder than words, is the clear message of this year’s CBI/KPMG infrastructure survey. Business confidence in our infrastructure appears to be ebbing away. The key issue is how quickly can recent policy announcements translate into investment on the ground.

“We’ve seen real improvements in our digital infrastructure, but there’s continuing uncertainty over energy and transport investment. Everyone understands that the Government is constrained financially. But the right government interventions will encourage the private sector to invest.

“The launch of the UK Guarantee programme is welcome but it now needs to be implemented quickly. House building offers the fastest-acting pain relief for our economic headache. In addition, we need to re-introduce tax relief for investment in buildings and structures.

“The need for investment is enormous and individual schemes can be controversial. Delay is often attractive. But only by investing today will we create jobs, drive growth and remain competitive in the global economy. Now is the time to act.”

While many firms are happy with their links to domestic markets, there is a considerable amount of variation between regions. Whereas in London, over three-quarters of companies are satisfied with the UK’s domestic networks, just over a half in the North West and East, and close to two-thirds of those in the West and East Midlands, are unhappy with the quality of their UK connections.

Mr Threlfall added: “Whilst many of the findings this year are encouraging, businesses outside London are much less confident that they have the infrastructure they need.”