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Pandemic reinforces need for new approach to Scotland’s infrastructure, commission warns

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Pandemic reinforces need for new approach to Scotland’s infrastructure, commission warns

An independent, specialist body should be created to provide the Scottish Government with “strategic, long-term infrastructure advice” and a construction accord should be established between the public sector and construction industry, the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland’s (ICS) final report has recommended.

ICS was created in early 2019 to provide independent advice to Scottish ministers on a 30-year vision for infrastructure in Scotland. The commission delivered its phase one report in January this year, focusing on the “why and what” of these challenges and the importance of inclusive growth and net-zero carbon.

Its final report, ‘Delivery Findings: a blueprint for Scotland’, was published today and focuses on the question of “how” to deliver the infrastructure required.

ICS notes that since the COVID-19 pandemic “we find ourselves in a very different world”.

“The commission has considered how it should address the impact of the pandemic as part of its Phase 2 work and has concluded that our work should not be aimed at addressing the immediate recovery from the pandemic; there are already many organisations in the public, private and third sector devoting considerable amounts of thought and energy to that,” the report stated.

“Rather, we have been engaging with many stakeholders over the last few months and have taken into consideration the longer-term impact and implications of some of those more immediate lessons and experiences that have emerged because of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to reinforce the importance of implementing these recommendations.”

In its final report, ICS recommended that by 2021 an independent specialist body is created by the Scottish Government to prioritise the infrastructure needed for an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy and to develop a “30-year infrastructure strategy that is reinforced by a long-term needs assessment”. 

The body would undertake regular strategic public engagement to inform the long-term strategy, which would be refreshed every five years; provide “strategic challenge” to the government of the day; and undertake one-off strategic reviews and research.

ICS also recommended the Scottish Government and Construction Scotland Leadership Group lead, develop, recourse and implement a “construction accord” between Scottish public sector bodies and the whole construction industry by the first quarter of 2021.

“Its purpose is to set out an inclusive, shared vision for, and commitment to create, the market interface conditions to support a high performing construction sector for the benefit of all Scotland, that contributes to the achievement of an inclusive net-zero carbon economy and underpins the delivery of the National Infrastructure Mission,” the report said.

The accord will improve the capacity, capability and diversity of the workforce at all levels; develop a “more coherent and less fragmented” approach to skills development and training Scotland that’s focused on the immediate and long-term needs of the construction sector; consider developing an appropriate registration scheme for apprenticeships; raise the profile of construction careers; and ensure those working in construction are employed under fair work principles and conditions.

ICS recommended the “place principle” be enshrined in all planning practice by the end of next year, through guidance, legislation or regulation, to help create sustainable places and enable a “one public sector approach” to infrastructure. Other recommendations included recognising the “critical and increasing importance of high-quality data to infrastructure assets of all types”.

Responding to the final report, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson said infrastructure would “play a critical role in the years ahead as we plan our strategic economic recovery from the pandemic”.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented global crisis which has fundamentally changed every aspect of our lives,” he said.

“I am grateful to the Infrastructure Commission for their hard work – no doubt made more challenging in recent months – to produce this comprehensive second report on the delivery of infrastructure. We shall now take time to consider its findings very carefully.”

He details on the Scottish Government’s next five-year year Infrastructure Investment Plan would be announced September, and that plan had been shaped by the ICS’ first report.

The final report, which concludes the work of ICS, has been handed to the Scottish Government. The commission called on Scottish minsters “to act on and engage widely to address these challenges and opportunities”.

“We are clear that the implementation of all of the recommendations made in our Phase 1 and Phase 2 reports – some of which we acknowledge will necessitate a fundamentally different way of prioritising, planning and delivering infrastructure investment – will make a significant contribution to the successful creation of an inclusive net zero carbon economy,” ICS chair Ian Russell said.

“The recommendations from the commission’s work over the past 18 months are designed to galvanise and accelerate action by all involved with infrastructure in Scotland.”

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