ICAEW chart of the week: UK government major projects portfolio

Our chart this week is based on the Institute for Government’s recently published Whitehall Monitor 2022, illustrating how the government has already started on many of the major projects that form part of the Levelling Up White Paper.

Column chart showing numbers of major projects together with the whole-life cost of those projects

2014: 158 existing projects + 44 new projects (£399bn)
2015: 150 existing + 38 new (£489bn)
2016: 112 existing + 21 new (£436bn)
2017: 107 existing + 36 new (£455bn)
2018: 115 existing + 18 new (£423bn)
2019: 114 existing + 19 new (£442bn)
2020: 108 existing + 17 new (£448bn)
2021: 87 existing + 97 new (£542bn)

On 31 January 2022, the Institute for Government (IfG) published its latest annual Whitehall Monitor, an authoritative compendium of analysis about the functions and effectiveness of central government that makes for compelling reading and contains some great charts to bring to life what would otherwise be pretty dry content.

Our chart this week draws on a couple of the IfG’s charts from pages 60 and 61 in the 2022 edition that take a look at the activities of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). One of the IPA’s key roles is to support central government departments with their most expensive and complex projects. As the chart highlights, there was a sizeable jump in 2021 with 97 new projects added to the 87 existing projects brought forward from previous years, bringing the estimated whole-life cost of the projects being supported by the IPA to £542bn, up from £448bn in 2020.

According to the IfG, the major projects portfolio includes infrastructure developments such as the creation of a Midlands Rail Hub, large-scale programmes to improve public services such as the recruitment of 20,000 police officers by 2023, and military projects such as building a new medium-lift helicopter. This is the largest number of new items added to the portfolio in a single year since the publication of the IPA’s first annual report in 2013, with many of the projects now branded as part of the Levelling Up agenda. For comparison, fewer than 20 projects were added to the portfolio each year between 2018 and 2020. The government is currently managing 184 major projects – about 1.5 times as many as it did the year before and the portfolio is now at its largest size since 2015.

From a conventional perspective it may seem strange that the government started many of the projects in its just published Levelling Up White Paper as much as a year before setting out the plan that they form part of, but in practice the main components, such as new investment in transport infrastructure outside London and the South East, have been known for some time – as has the additional capital expenditure funding that has been provided to departmental budgets. What is new is the insight into the metrics that the government intends to use to assess the effectiveness of its levelling up plans by 2030, with 12 key objectives to be achieved.

However, as discussed in ICAEW’s Autumn Budget and Spring Budget coverage last year, much tighter budget settlements for day-to-day spending mean that departments could struggle to deliver major projects successfully given all the other pressures they are under as well as rapidly rising input costs, with the IfG commenting that: “Ministers should be careful to maintain enough administrative resources in their departments to help officials undertake these projects well, on time and to budget.”

The chart illustrates how following the IPA’s inception in 2013, there were 155 existing projects carried forward into 2014 and 44 new projects that year, a total of 199 with a whole-life cost of £399bn. This was followed by 188 projects in 2015 (150 existing and 38 new) of £489bn, 143 in 2016 (112 + 31) of £436bn, 143 in 2017 (107 + 36) of £455bn, 133 in 2018 (115 + 18) of £423bn, 133 in 2019 (114 + 19) of £442bn, 125 in 2022 (108 + 17) of £448bn and 184 projects in 2021 (87 existing + 97 new) with a whole-life cost of £542bn.

The IfG says: “Major reform is needed for government to respond to crises like the pandemic while simultaneously delivering long-term policy goals. Whitehall Monitor 2022 reveals how the government has been handling the Covid crisis while at the same time trying to make progress on priorities such as levelling up and hitting net zero. New employment support schemes and the vaccination programme were delivered rapidly, but progress on pre-pandemic priorities was limited.”

The report also warns that without fundamental reform – such as clarifying ministerial and civil service accountability, better data, improving transparency and ensuring a targeted workforce plan underpins its goal of up to 55,000 civil service job cuts by 2025 – government will continue being knocked off course when faced with shocks to the system. The IfG concludes that whatever happens as a result of the prime minister’s current troubles, with a looming cost-of-living crisis, ongoing COVID-19 challenges, and crunch Brexit deadlines and decisions ahead, 2022 will bring further strain.

The Levelling Up White Paper sets out some big aspirations, but the jury is still out as to whether they can be delivered.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: US Infrastructure & Jobs Act

My chart this week looks at the $550bn of incremental funding over five years allocated by the US Infrastructure & Jobs Act just passed by Congress.

Chart showing $550bn in incremental investment over five years, with $110bn allocated to roads & bridges, $66bn railroads, $65bn power grid, $65bn broadband, $63bn water, $47bn resilience, $39bn public transit, $25bn airports, $21bn environment, $17bn ports, $15bn electric vehicles and $11bn safety.

The $1.2tn US Infrastructure & Jobs Act authorises $550bn in incremental spending over five years on top of existing infrastructure investment planned by the federal government on highways, railroads, electricity networks, water, public transit, airports, and ports across the US. Passed by Congress with some bipartisan support it aims to renew the nation’s infrastructure and stimulate the economy as the US emerges from the pandemic.

The White House describes the Act as delivering “no more lead pipes, high-speed internet access, better roads and bridges, investments in public transit, upgraded airports and ports, investment in passenger rail, a network of electric vehicle chargers, an upgraded power infrastructure, resilient infrastructure, and investment in environmental remediation.”

The incremental spending can be broken down as follows:

  • $110bn for roads and bridges – rebuilding the crumbling highway network, transportation research, funding for Puerto Rico’s highways, and ‘congestion relief’ in American cities
  • $66bn for railroads – upgrades and maintenance of the passenger rail system, and freight rail safety
  • $65bn for the power grid – investment in power lines and cables, and in clean energy
  • $65bn for broadband – expanding broadband in rural areas and low-income communities, including $14bn to reduce internet bills for low-income citizens
  • $63bn for water infrastructure – including $15bn for lead pipe replacement, $10bn for chemical clean-up, and $8bn for water facilities in the western half of the country to address ongoing drought conditions.
  • $47bn for resilience – a Resilience Fund to protect infrastructure from cybersecurity attacks and address flooding, wildfires, coastal erosion, and droughts along with other extreme weather events
  • $39bn for public transit – upgrades to public transport systems nationwide, new bus routes, and public transport accessibility for seniors and disabled Americans
  • $25bn for airports – major upgrades and expansions at airports, including $5bn for air traffic control towers and systems
  • $21bn for the environment – to clean up polluted ‘superfund’ and other brownfield sites, abandoned mines, and old oil and gas wells
  • $17bn for ports – half to the Army Corps of Engineers for port infrastructure, with the balance to the Coast Guard, ferry terminals, and to reduce truck emissions at ports
  • $15bn for electric vehicles – including $7.5bn on electric vehicle charging points, $5bn for bus fleet replacement in low-income, rural, and tribal communities, and $2.5bn for zero- and low-emission ferries
  • $11bn for safety – mostly highway safety improvements, but also for pedestrian, pipeline, and other safety areas

The plan was for a combination of tax rises, economic returns on the investments made and savings from other areas (including unused pandemic-relief) to fully cover the cost of these investments, however, many of the proposed tax increases did not make it to final bill and the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that there is less unused pandemic-relief available than originally thought. The CBO estimates that the fiscal deficit will be $350bn higher over the next five years.

The Act is the economic infrastructure element of President Biden’s “Build Back Better Framework”, with the separate $1.75tn Build Back Better Bill covering social infrastructure (including more than a million homes for low-income families) and large amounts for social programmes. These include universal pre-school for three- and four-year olds, free community college, expanded healthcare through Medicare (for over 65s) and Medicaid (for low-income families), lower prescription drug costs, tax cuts for children and childcare support, and paid family leave. There is also some money for tax cuts for electric vehicles and other climate incentives, although more ambitious plans such as forcing utilities to phase in renewable energy are believed to be less likely to make it into the final legislation. The Build Back Better Bill does not have bipartisan support and so requires all 50 Democrats in the Senate and almost all the Democrats in the House of Representatives to agree if it is to pass.

Whether the other elements of the Build Back Better Framework come to fruition remains to be seen, but President Biden will definitely be pleased that he can chalk up this major legislative achievement.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Where is the infrastructure for delivering infrastructure?

19 October 2020: How can the UK deliver on its ambitious infrastructure plans without a national infrastructure strategy, a comprehensive multi-year spending review, or an infrastructure investment bank?

It seems that everyone agrees that investing more in infrastructure is critical to the future prosperity of the UK, but how do we actually deliver those ambitions on the ground? 

After decades of underinvestment that has seen the UK fall behind many other developed, and even some developing countries, there is a great deal of consensus that a substantial amount of new investment is needed in both economic and social infrastructure right across the country. An investment-led recovery is also increasingly seen as essential to repair the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK does not score that well with only one relatively short high-speed railway, low broadband speeds across most of the country, severely congested roads, poor public transport networks outside London and the South East, a collapsing nuclear energy programme, underinvestment in hospitals, schools and care homes, and a failure to deliver enough houses. The fading glory of the on-time and on-budget delivery of the 2012 Olympics seems a long-time ago, as does the admittedly controversial PFI investment boom of the early 2000s.

A successful infrastructure programme requires many elements, starting with a clear national strategy setting out what needs to be built and how. Budget allocations for publicly funded infrastructure and a financial framework for privately funded infrastructure need to be in place well in advance. Financial institutions are required to provide finance for major infrastructure projects and to the businesses constructing them. An efficient planning system is needed that balances the economic benefits of building new assets with other interests.

Despite the enthusiasm for new investment from across the political spectrum, many of the building blocks are not yet in place. The National Infrastructure Strategy has been delayed several times and is still not published. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed the planned three-year Spending Review by yet another year, with a more limited one-year Spending Round expected this November instead. Similarly, we are still awaiting the outcome of the Infrastructure Finance Review that is expected to provide a new financial framework for private sector participation in infrastructure projects, as well as an anticipated UK successor to the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Despite this, there are some bright spots. Behind the scenes, there is a major upgrade underway of the UK’s energy transmission and distribution networks that is seeing tens of billions invested in improving the resilience and flexibility of the UK’s energy plumbing. And the UK has become a world leader in offshore wind power, with decisions taken a decade ago starting to bear fruit.

How can the UK deliver on ambitious plans to achieve carbon-neutrality while ensuring a reliable and secure energy supply, become a digital superpower and ‘level up’ deprived regions all at the same time? 

This is one of the more important debates we need to have – after all the very future of the country is at stake.

Join Katie Black, Director for Policy at the National Infrastructure Commission, Melanie Onn, Deputy Chief Executive for Renewable UK, Iain Wright, Director for Business and Industrial Strategy at ICAEW and Alison Ring, Director for Public Sector at ICAEW, to discuss the UK’s infrastructure plans at an ICAEW webinar on Thursday 22 October at 11am.

To read ICAEW’s submission to the Infrastructure Finance Review click here.

This article was originally published on the ICAEW website.

Challenges for public bodies as PFI contracts end

8 June 2020: An NAO report has recommended that public bodies start preparations seven years before PFI contracts expire to negotiate the handover of assets and ensure service delivery is not disrupted.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has issued a report on the challenges public bodies are facing as private finance initiative (PFI) contracts come to an end. 

There are over 700 PFI contracts in the UK involving assets with a capital value of £57bn. Of these, 72 are due to expire over the next seven years in England, with an estimated £3.9bn of assets expected to revert to public sector ownership in that time.

The NAO is the independent audit body responsible for scrutinising public spending on behalf of Parliament. In addition to auditing the financial accounts of departments and other public bodies, the NAO examines and reports on the value for money of how public money has been spent.

PFI is a contracting approach where public bodies acquire the right to use an asset embedded within a long-term service contract. PFI contracts are typically for periods of up to 25 years and were used extensively from the late 1990s until the early 2010s to build a range of assets including (but not limited to) schools, hospitals, offices, transport infrastructure and military equipment. 

Most PFI contracts expire from 2025 onwards, meaning there has so far only been a limited number of practical examples to learn from. Of those, the NAO reports that four out nine of the public bodies they surveyed were dissatisfied with the condition of PFI assets at expiry.

Key findings in the report include:

  • The public sector does not have a strategic or consistent approach to PFI contract expiry and risks failing to secure value for money in negotiations with the private sector
  • There is a risk of increased costs and service disruptions if public bodies do not prepare for contract expiry adequately in advance
  • Insufficient knowledge about asset condition risks them being returned in worse quality than expected
  • Contract expiry is resource-intensive and requires different skills, with external consultants needed in most cases
  • Many public bodies start preparing four years or more before expiry, but experience suggests that preparation time is often underestimated. Infrastructure & Projects Authority (IPA) guidance is seven years
  • There is a potential for disputes, especially as PFI providers often have a financial incentive to cut spending on asset maintenance and rectification towards the end of a contract
  • Early PFI contracts are likely to be ambiguous about roles and responsibilities at contract expiry, with poorly drafted clauses open to interpretation.

The NAO recommends that public bodies and sponsor departments start preparing for contract expiry on a timely basis, ensure the PFI contract is complete and expiry provisions are well understood, develop a contract expiry plan and escalate problems which cannot be resolved at a local level. It also recommends that adequate funding is provided to cover dispute resolution and hiring additional resources.

The NAO believes that the IPA and sponsor departments have key roles to play in supporting public bodies and departmental teams responsible for PFI contracts with resources, sector-specific expertise, specialist advice and training. They need to identify high-risk contracts, such as those sitting with public bodies that lack appropriate skills and capabilities, and potentially establish an electronic repository to enable a more consistent approach across government.

The NAO says the IPA should assess the value of money of establishing a centralised pool of internal resources, such as lawyers and surveyors, that authorities can use, provide contract expiry guidance and terms of reference for consultants, develop a consistent approach to resolving legal disputes, and develop an investor strategy to manage relationships with PFI equity investors, management service companies, and contractors.

The report’s final recommendation is to HM Treasury, saying it should provide funding to departments assisting financially constrained public bodies where it is value for money and practical to do so.

Commenting on the report Alison Ring, Director, Public Sector, at ICAEW said:

“Public bodies are very experienced in the operation of ongoing PFI contracts. But with most PFI contracts not due to finish until 2025 or later, they have much less experience of managing contract expiry.

The NAO is quite right to highlight the need to start planning well in advance and the need to invest in the very different skills and expertise required to negotiate the handover of assets to ensure service delivery is not disrupted. 

The role of the Infrastructure & Projects Authority and sponsoring departments will also be critical in supporting the 182 public bodies responsible for just one PFI contract, and in ensuring that lessons learned are shared across the public sector.

With tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds at stake if public bodies get this wrong, it is extremely important that the Government is not penny wise and pound foolish by failing to invest in the sufficiently skilled resources that will be required to get the best value for money for the taxpayer as PFI contracts come to an end.”

This article was originally published by ICAEW.