Transport infra is ‘biggest concern’ of UK business

A new survey of almost 600 business leaders by the CBI and KPMG has found unease at the slow rate of progress on infrastructure delivery. However, a newer but related poll found enthusiasm for the government’s guarantees scheme.

Nearly 75 percent of business leaders believe that there will not be any improvement in transport infrastructure in the UK over the next five years. This is enough to make transport infrastructure their biggest concern. 

The finding arose from a survey of 568 business professionals, conducted in June and July this year by lobbying group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and financial services firm KPMG.     

The view of most respondents to the “Better connected, better business” survey – the second such survey that the two organisations have conducted – was that critical infrastructure improvements are not happening quickly enough and that urgent government delivery is required. 

While transport was the biggest worry, the survey also found two-thirds of those polled believe the UK’s energy and water infrastructure is unlikely to get any better because of uncertainty about the policy framework. 

“Actions speak louder than words, is the clear message of this year’s CBI/KPMG infrastructure survey,” said Richard Threlfall, KPMG’s UK head of infrastructure, building and construction, in a press release. “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 survey found an overwhelming 97 percent citing the UK’s planning system as a barrier to delivering new infrastructure. While 45 percent believe the government’s changes to the planning system will have a positive impact, they are outnumbered by the 48 percent who think they won’t make a difference.

There are some clear regional variations that emerge from the survey. While 77 percent of London respondents are happy with the UK’s domestic infrastructure networks, 59 percent of those in the West and East Midlands are unhappy.

There are also differences with respect to different types of transport. While 65 percent see road networks as being in decline – with congestion and lack of investment being seen as the main causes – 45 percent say they have seen improvements to inter-city rail connections over the last five years. Furthermore, 64 percent say the planned High-Speed Two rail project would have a positive impact on their ability to grow.

In a positive sign for the government, a “more recent snap poll” from the CBI and KPMG found that 60 percent of businesses think the new UK Guarantees scheme will help to boost investment, “kick-starting investment and getting diggers on the ground”.

“The launch of the UK Guarantee programme is welcome but it now needs to be implemented quickly,” said Threlfall.