The Government published the National Infrastructure Strategy in November 2020. Since the strategy’s publication, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to affect travel usage patterns in the UK. The Government has not yet assessed whether the strategy will meet the needs of a post-pandemic society, accounting for the evolution of the virus over the past 10 months.
Government policy assumes that infrastructure investment can reduce regional inequalities within the UK. However, the “levelling up” concept is not supported by detailed metrics or a clear definition. Furthermore, the concept is undefined in the specific field of major transport infrastructure projects. If “levelling up” amounts to more than rhetoric, then it requires definition and metrics to identify what success looks like.
Projects that best support connectivity, growth and productivity are the ones that the Government should approve and prioritise. To ensure such projects are selected, the Government must utilise accurate analytical tools such as benefit-cost ratios. However, benefit-cost ratios do not always adequately account for regional inequalities and environmental and social factors. A benefit-cost plus system should be introduced to supplement benefit-cost ratios with geographic, environmental and social factors.
Many major transport infrastructure projects in the UK have exceeded cost and time estimates. Yet senior management of Government agencies tasked with delivering these projects are apparently unaccountable for those overruns. Incentives, for example, a formal duty to immediately notify the relevant Select Committee in cases where cost and time estimates are exceeded, may help to mitigate those issues.