752: NIC has new commissioners and website
Today’s entry reports on the latest news of the National Infrastructure Commission.
The National Infrastructure Commission is the body charged with recommending how infrastructure should be planned over the next 33 years. Until now it had a page on the www.gov.uk website in the same style and format as government departments, but it has now launched its own website at www.nic.org.uk.
It has also confirmed Lord Adonis in the role of chair, after that was subject to open competition, although he was already in the post, and four new commissioners:
- Dame Kate Barker, author of the 2004 review of land use planning that ultimately led to the Planning Act 2008. She was also, briefly, a commissioner of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, if I remember correctly;
- Professor David Fisk, professor of Systems Engineering Innovation at Imperial College London;
- Andy Green, chair of the Digital Catapult and president of UK Space, amongst other roles; and
- Julia Prescot, chief strategy officer of Meridiam, a French investment company.
The other existing commissioners (Sir John Armitt, Tim Besley, Demis Hassabis, Sadie Morgan and Bridget Rosewell) continue in their roles, with the notable exception of Michael Heseltine who was removed from all advisory roles when he fell out with the Government.
Like any self-respecting organisation it even has a blog, which currently has three entries posted on the launch day of Friday 21 April:
- an introductory entry by Lord Adonis;
- a post about the National Infrastructure Assessment by Commissioner Tim Besley; and
- a post on the ‘paper of the month’ by chief economist James Richardson.
The paper of the month is a paper by Pedro Bom and Jenny Ligthart entitled ‘What we have learned from three decades of research on the productivity of public capital’, undated but revised in July 2011. I think you’ll join me in welcoming their conclusion that there is an average output elasticity of public capital of 0.082. To be fair, James Richardson explains this as meaning that doubling infrastructure stock increases GDP by 10% – or 8.2% to be more precise, presumably. But it is a bit of a dry paper.
I have a thing about the lack of public engagement and accessibility of the NIC, which wants to be credible, forward-thinking and influential. It is not going to achieve the first of these if it develops its recommendations in a vacuum, it needs to know where forwards is to achieve the second and it is not going to be the third if no-one knows about it. I hope the publication of this summer’s ‘vision and priorities’ document will raise its profile in the public consciousness.
But I’m not just going to sit here and complain. Here are some questions that I think are more interesting and could engage people:
- should we build more infrastructure that will cost money and take up space, or change people’s habits to use existing infrastructure more evenly throughout the day?;
- to support economic growth, should all parts of the country be made more accessible or should some areas be preserved by being difficult to get to?;
- should the priority of economic growth be to make successful places more successful, or to try to make less successful places successful?;
- what improves quality of life? Is it high-quality transport and a global economy, or is it things like friends, culture, a pub and sports facilities within walking distance?; and
- if we are to improve our international competitiveness, should the UK become known for something in particular, e.g. being green, having leading technology or the highest quality sporting or cultural output? If so, which one?
What do you think? These are big questions, but the NIC needs to find out what people think about them if it is to make credible, forward-thinking and influential recommendations. It has a huge task, but there is no doubt that it is an exciting and necessary one.