Lack of managers and skills hindering infrastructure capacity

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A report from Public Accounts Committee (PAC) highlights a lack of skills for construction managers as competition from larger over seas infrastructure projects drain skills from UK.

The UK lack the necessary skills and capacity to deliver ambitious plans for major infrastructure over the next five years without a serious U turn in training and policy. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) calls for the Government to set out how it will address these issues and ensure future projects offer value for taxpayers’ money in the long term.

The mass skills shortages in technical and engineering disciplines are set to worsen as gaps in the UK’s workforce are compounded by competition from major global development projects.In particular project management and design are also areas of concern, and skilled professionals in senior positions are a major area for concern.  Of 16,000 project professionals that need to gain accreditation from the Government’s major project leadership academy, only 1,000 had done so at the time of the PAC’s report, which warns that failure to build market capacity could result in higher prices for scarce skills.

In March 2023, the Government Major Projects Portfolio included 244 projects with an estimated total whole-life cost of £805 billion. The PAC’s inquiry heard that this scale of investment is unprecedented and projected spend over the next five years is very high as the Government looks to develop sectors including road, rail and energy.

Despite this level of investment, the PAC believes government departments are failing to devote the time and effort needed to ensure they maximise the value that comes from projects. Only 8% of the £432 billion spend on major projects in 2019 had robust impact evaluation plans in place and around two-thirds had no plans at all. This is despite high quality evaluation being important to provide evidence for what works, demonstrate value and to make the case for or against further investment. Decisions are being made in the absence of evidence, putting value for money at unnecessary risk.

The report highlights good examples of effective cross-government working, which will be fundamental to delivering complex major projects. However, the PAC believes more must be done to incentivise departments to work together if we are to see this practice become systemic across all departments.

This comes as the CITB has a glut of 100m of funding yet to be used as reported here by which would go along way to bringing the skills gap.

Chair of the Committee Dame Meg Hillier MP commented saying that “Over the coming years, Government spending on major infrastructure projects is set to rise to unprecedented levels. Such projects present unique and novel challenges which Government must navigate if it is to secure value for public money. Without a robust market for essential skills in place, these are challenges the UK will fail to meet, as shortages push costs up in a globally competitive environment.

All too often we see projects and programmes that are poorly managed and delivered late and over budget. The failure to ensure projects have robust impact evaluation plans in place is symptomatic of the short-term mentality dominating these processes. The Government must encourage cross-departmental learning if we are to avoid repeating past mistakes.”