Renewed calls for national infrastructure company following ‘disappointing’ report
Trade unions and think tanks have renewed their calls for the establishment of a Scottish national infrastructure company following a “disappointing” report from the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS).
In its report, presented to the Scottish Government earlier this week, the commission called for the establishment of a new independent specialist body but rejected proposals for a Scottish national infrastructure company (SNIC).
However, it added a caveat that “the situations and the problems we need to respond to are not constant and can change very quickly – the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for society and the economy serve to illustrate that point”.
“Any future consideration of a Scottish national infrastructure company will need to draw on the evidence of how successfully the commission’s recommendations have been implemented, as well as the context prevailing at the time,” it concluded.
The Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC), which is represented on the ICS and the separate, climate-oriented Just Transition Commission (JTC), said it was “very disappointed” that the commission had rejected calls for the creation of a national infrastructure company.
Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC, said: “The JTC has concentrated on immediate measures to alleviate the crisis which are consistent with the journey to net zero and community justice.
“However, governments are also going to have to face up to the need for a new industrial strategy including massive investment in public transport, clean construction and retrofit, and the renewables energy supply chain.
“That is why now is the right time to create a national infrastructure company to drive this work forward.”
Dr Craig Dalzell, head of policy and research at Common Weal, criticised the report in an article for the think tank’s news and analysis platform Source.
“If implemented, a Scottish national infrastructure company would break the private company stranglehold on public infrastructure and finally end the financial scourge of PFI and its successors (like NPD and MIM) which have severely strained the finances of our local Authorities and now cost Scotland more than £1 billion every year,” he wrote.
“It would also allow Scotland to properly reform the construction sector and its associated supply chain – to move it onto a footing able to cope with the demands of constructing and retrofitting the kind of high quality, zero carbon public buildings that Scotland will need to meet its climate targets.”
He added: “The commission was given a narrow mandate within which to frame potential policy such as SNIC and has determined that while SNIC might be sufficient to meet these goals, it was not necessary to do so and therefore rather than set up a new agency, the goals should instead be met with another round of ‘streamlining, reforming and enhancing existing activities’.
“No consideration was allowed of potential uses for SNIC which could not be met with existing infrastructure plans. Whilst the commission acknowledged that factors such the COVID pandemic may change things, we are not to complain about the rejection until after they’ve had another chance to fail.
“This conclusion misses the entire point and purpose of SNIC. The current infrastructure procurement programme is deeply flawed. It doesn’t really matter how efficient the process is made, when the real problem is that contracts are hidden behind layers of secrecy, doled out to favoured contacts and wrapped up in contracts that lead to decades of crippling payments for buildings that (in some cases) have literally fallen down.”