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Labour plans to merge NIC and IPA into ‘powerful’ new infrastructure delivery body

The Labour Party has revealed its intention to merge the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) into a “new, powerful” body to “better support the delivery of major capital projects”, if it comes into power after the General Election.

The body will be called the National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority (Nista) and its formation is an outcome from Labour’s Major Capital Projects Review, which is supported by experts from National Grid, Mace, Jacobs, Skanska and more.

Labour says Nista will focus on “tackling the inertia at the heart of government to get Britain building again” and will “be given new powers and an updated mandate to drive more effective delivery of major projects and infrastructure across the country”.

Nista will be overseen by a board that includes external experts and it will be jointly accountable to the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.

It will continue the work of the IPA on digital transformation, housing “a new directorate with a remit to overhaul the assurance of major technology and service transformation programmes, ensuring their delivery reflects the practices used by the most successful organisations of the internet era”.

Announcing Nista at the UK Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREIIF), Labour shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones said: “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset how infrastructure is delivered, and public services are upgraded. We will call time on an era of Tory chaos, waste and decline.

“Our new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority will be laser-focused on delivery and play a critical role in setting the path we need to drive growth.

“A Labour government will get Britain building again.”

Why and how?

Analysis by groups such as Boston Consulting Group has shown that Britain is the most expensive place to deliver new infrastructure. A lot of this comes down to the planning system.

This has been reflected in the IPA’s annual review of UK major projects, which has seen the number of schemes slip into the ‘appears unachievable’ bracket double since 2020. Over 200 projects in its 2023 report were below ‘delivery appears probable’.

Britain Remade is a campaign to promote economic growth in Britain and its analysis found that “Britain pays over the odds when it builds new roads, railways, and nuclear power stations”, according to its head of policy Sam Dumitriu.

He continued: “When Britain Remade looked at over 250 infrastructure projects across 16 countries, we found that the UK was almost always the most expensive place to build when comparing like-for-like.

“If Britain could cut costs down to the European average, it’d mean we could build more of the transport links and clean power sources that are essential to getting the UK growing. It’s unsurprising that Labour have decided a new body to tackle this problem is desperately needed.”

As for actual mechanisms that Labour could utilise to improve infrastructure delivery, Dumitriu suggested building up an internal knowledge base on infrastructure to reduce the state’s reliance on external consultants.

“That’s partly good because consultants are expensive, but mainly good because it means that scrutiny and changes can be done quickly without moving up the chain of seniority,” he said.

Another potential approach is to “combine strategy and work backwards”, according to Dumitriu. “Then I suspect you might swiftly realise that many projects are over-spec’d in ways that are not justified by the end goal,” he added.

As for overcoming the policy and funding barriers, Dumitriu said: “A new body where strategy is combined with delivery might be better able to spot where funding delays are harming the delivery of a broader infrastructure goals. It might also simply create more urgency to deliver on policy reforms when they’re considered in the context of needing to deliver however many wind turbines by 2030.”

Industry support

Members of Labour’s expert independent advisory panel on Major Capital Projects have thrown their support behind the announcement of Nista.

Jacobs senior vice president Kate Kenny said: “What we need is for businesses, government and local leaders to pull together in the same direction, taking a long-term strategic approach – and understand that getting growth in the economy is always underpinned by good, reliable and new infrastructure. Today’s announcement is a positive step forward in achieving these goals.”

Skanska UK CEO Kate Dowding believes that “creating a new organisation, capable of marrying strategy and delivery is a positive step forward for business”.

She added: “It is imperative that delivery is prioritised and that there is a clear focus on building new infrastructure. Doing this will encourage confidence back into a market that has been volatile for too long.”

“Going back to first principles of what works and what doesn’t will be critical,” SGN CEO Mark Wild said. “Creating an environment of long-term stability for business will help spur investment and encourage confidence that Britain can get building again. These reforms are long overdue and will make a real difference.”

Oxford Global Projects, the world’s leading authority for global mega projects, believes this would be a crucial step, with its CEO Alexander Budzier saying: “Creating a new centre of excellence that brings together the national strategy and project delivery, that will have the authority to ensure our most complex and novel projects, including infrastructure, defence, technology, and transformation, are delivered as promised is the first much-needed step to evolve the government's delivery system.”

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