ICS: Independent specialist body should play role in delivering inclusive, net zero carbon economy

An independent specialist body should be given responsibility to help prioritise the infrastructure needed to enable an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy and to develop a 30-year infrastructure strategy that is reinforced by a long-term needs assessment, the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has said.

Ian Russell CBE
Ian Russell CBE

In a new report presented to the Scottish Government and published today, the commission, chaired by Ian Russell CBE, said the importance of delivering an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed independent organisation, which the ICS says should be set up by early next year, would sit outside the political decision-making system to enable it to operate in an arms-length and transparent way – one that builds confidence across the public and private sectors as well as society and the general public.

The commission’s other recommendations include that the Scottish Government should enshrine the use by all stakeholders of the “Place Principle” which has already been proven to be an effective model when designing places within planning practice. This would support the creation of sustainable places and help enable a “one public sector approach” to infrastructure which is central to achieving the commission’s vision for a net zero carbon and inclusive growth economy.

The ICS also recognises the importance of a thriving construction sector being vital for the successful delivery of Scotland’s long-term infrastructure requirements. While work is already underway to drive positive outcomes to increase productivity, raise capability and improve the reputation of the construction sector, the ICS notes that in light of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had across the economy, there is a window of opportunity for both the public and construction sectors to strengthen their future working relationship and practice.

As part of this, the ICS recommends that by early 2021, Scottish Government and the Construction Scotland Leadership Group should create a Construction Accord. This would underline the vision and set a commitment to improve conditions that support a high performing construction sector. It would include measures to improve the capacity, capability and diversity of the workforce at all levels with a heavy focus on skills development, training requirements and career prospects for those working in the sector.

Ian Russell, chair of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, said: “Infrastructure has a vital role to play in the delivery of an inclusive, net zero carbon economy and COVID-19 has amplified the need for urgent action and change for economic, social and natural infrastructure.

“The commission is recommending that an independent, specialist body be given responsibility for providing government with strategic, long-term infrastructure advice and enshrining the place principle within planning practice. Collaboration between the public sector and the construction industry is crucial and therefore establishing a construction accord between the public sector and the construction industry is another vital recommendation in the commission’s report.”

Other recommendations in the report include harnessing a heightened focus on digital technology. Recognising the critical and increasing importance of high-quality data to infrastructure assets of all types, the ICS advises that a digital data co-ordination, standards and facilitation role is established by the end of 2021 to support the efficient and innovative development and use of data for the infrastructure sector.

Infrastructure Secretary Michael Matheson said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented global crisis which has fundamentally changed every aspect of our lives. Infrastructure will play a critical role in the years ahead as we plan our strategic economic recovery from the pandemic.

“I am grateful to the Infrastructure Commission for their hard work – no doubt made more challenging in recent months – to produce this comprehensive second report on the delivery of infrastructure. We shall now take time to consider its findings very carefully.

“The Commission’s Phase 1 report has already helped to shape our next five-year Infrastructure Investment Plan, details of which I look forward to announcing in September. This Plan will incorporate a response to the Commission’s Phase 1 findings.”

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