Voters need to be convinced that tough choices on upgrading national infrastructure are necessary – but that most people trust independent experts over politicians.
These are the key results of a new poll of more than 1,000 members of the public conducted by Ipsos MORI for the CBI.
The research shows that the government and businesses need to do a much better job of explaining the UK’s infrastructure investment needs, shifting the focus to why it matters locally and what benefits projects will bring.
It reveals that two thirds of people (65%) agree that decisions should be delayed so that the public’s views can be heard properly, even if this means that infrastructure weaknesses are not tackled when they need to be.
That compares with only 24% who don’t think decisions should be delayed. People are currently more concerned by the inconvenience and potential disruption of upgrade work than the risk of failing to act.
The CBI-commissioned research shows a stark disconnect between the need to invest in infrastructure to ensure the long-term success of our economy, to support businesses to grow and compete internationally and general public perception.
Nearly half of respondents are satisfied with the state of national infrastructure, with only a quarter (27%) dissatisfied. But according to the World Economic Forum the UK ranks only 28th in the world for the quality of infrastructure.
The CBI poll found that people overwhelmingly trust technical experts to make national infrastructure decisions over politicians (64% versus 22%). But they also want their voice to be heard – when asked who they most trusted to represent local views about a project 42% said “me and people like me”.
Steve Holliday, Chief Executive, National Grid, said: “In the UK we need to ensure we continue to have a secure and affordable energy supply, while meeting our ambitious low carbon targets. This is about how people will heat and light their homes in the future and how we keep our factories and offices going.
“As new power stations open and others close, it is vital that we invest in our energy infrastructure to create jobs and make sure we power the economy. At National Grid, we are investing around three billion pounds a year in our energy networks.
“We need the public’s buy-in to meet these challenges, so we must have an open and honest conversation about our infrastructure needs and how they affect people every day.”
John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said: “Our research reveals a major disconnect between what infrastructure investment we need for our long-term economic success compared with what the public accepts. We urgently need to upgrade our energy infrastructure to avoid future power shortages, for example.
“The public trust technical experts to make infrastructure decisions, rather than politicians, so the CBI would like to see all parties consider the merits of the Armitt Review, which suggested setting up an independent national infrastructure decision-making body.”