Sir John Armitt's Review: London 2012 Olympics Proves UK Can Fix Infrastructure Problems

The London 2012 Olympic Games, says Sir John Armitt who oversaw the building work on the venues, proves the UK can sort out its infrastructure issues (Reuters)

Britain should create an independent commission to analyse the country's many infrastructure problems and monitor government plans to tackle them, according to a review by the man who built the London 2012 Olympic Games venues.

Sir John Armitt, who was chief of the Olympics Delivery Authority and was commissioned to do the review by the Labour party, said a new National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) should be given statutory independence and conduct once-a-decade assessments of the country's long-term infrastructure needs, before working with the government of the day to develop plans.

The NIC should then oversee the delivery of the government's plans, monitoring and assessing their progress.

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"Over the last 40 years UK infrastructure has fallen behind the rest of the world and is increasingly struggling to cope with the demands we make of it," said Armitt.

"An infrastructure fit for the future must now be a national priority alongside education and health and a new independent National Infrastructure Commission is a way of delivering this improvement with the vital support of the public and politicians of all parties."

He added: "London 2012 proved we are capable of planning and delivering complex and innovative infrastructure projects with local and national cross-party support. We did it right for the Games and now we need to apply the lessons we've learned to other areas and services we need to improve to cope with the challenges ahead."

Details of Review

The review concluded that vital projects were needed as the Office for National Statistics forecasts the UK's population will grow to over 73 million by 2035.

Two issues have dogged positive political progress, says Armitt's review. They are policy uncertainty and a lack of strategic guidance provided by successive governments for many decades.

These could be rectified by a commission that could produce a National Infrastructure Assessment that would look at the scale of investment the UK needed to maintain its long-term competitiveness.

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The National Infrastructure Commission with its statutory mandate would have its recommendations debated and voted on in both houses of parliament.

Following parliamentary approval, government departments would then be assigned and given licence to pursue specific projects.

The commission would provide a critical view of both the government's record in delivering the legislation and parliamentary procedure in holding the government to account.

Such statutory power and responsibility of a commission would ensure that large and complex infrastructure projects would not be derailed by the electoral cycle, the review argued.

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Armitt Review Welcomed

A leading UK thinktank, the country's biggest business lobbyist, and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have all welcomed the Armitt Review.

"Underinvestment in infrastructure has been an important element of the UK's poor historical record on investment spending. As a result, much of the UK's infrastructure is now creaking," said Tony Dolphin, chief economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

"The independent National Infrastructure Commission proposed by Sir John would represent a significant improvement on current arrangements, enabling projects to be prioritised and ensuring a degree of pressure on government to improve its record on delivery."

Meanwhile, the Confederation of British Industry's Chief Policy Director Katja Hall said that an independent Commission would ensure that politicians can no longer avoid difficult infrastructure questions.

"This report is a thoughtful contribution to the debate about the UK's long-term infrastructure needs and should be considered by all political parties," she said.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said building a national consensus on future infrastructure "makes huge sense and the government and employers should respond positively to these proposals."

"The TUC stands ready to play our part in making the case for infrastructure that can boost growth, rebalance the economy and put in place the change we need to decarbonise our energy supply," said O'Grady.

"As well as beginning to address our long-term investment shortfall a well-worked through plan would also give the government the right tools to speed up investment to give the economy a boost."

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