National Infrastructure Commission
Frank debate on costs and expectations needed to prepare infrastructure for climate change
Sir John Armitt gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy
A public debate needs to be held on the right level of investment that today’s consumers and taxpayers can be expected to pay to prepare key national infrastructure for climate risks of the future, the Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission has told a Parliamentary committee.
Sir John Armitt told MPs and Peers that on the basis of that democratic conversation, ministers must “grasp the nettle” and decide what resilience standards are appropriate, alongside a review of regulators’ statutory duties, so that infrastructure operators are facilitated to invest in achieving those standards in the longer term.
Sir John was giving evidence to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy on Monday 13 December. The committee, chaired by Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, is currently holding an inquiry into critical national infrastructure and climate adaptation. The full evidence session can be watched back here.
Sir John explained that the Commission has previously recommended that government, working with industry, should publish transparent standards from each key infrastructure sector to set out “what standards the public expect and what level of resilience we regard as adequate and something we are prepared live with”. These should be monitored by the relevant regulators, who would also co-ordinate stress testing of operators’ plans to ensure these standards can be met, he said.
Sir John told the committee that “at the end of the day we as the public are going to have to pay for it and therefore there is always the underlying issue of what we think we can afford to pay, what we are prepared to pay and what is the level of tolerance that we have for failures”.
Noting the recent tragic tornadoes in the United States, Sir John added that “we probably don’t expect to be protected against absolutely every instance” and that “there will be limits – we have to find the right balance between what we are a society are prepared to accept, what we are prepared to pay and what can be delivered in a sensible timeframe.”
Drawing on research undertaken for the Commission’s recent Baseline Report, Sir John noted that the public are broadly satisfied with infrastructure services in the UK, with high levels of confidence that key services will met their needs in 30 years’ time. However, extreme circumstances naturally raise questions and the likelihood of similar events in future needs to considered based on the best available data.
“The real challenge are those lower probability, very high impact risks,” Sir John said. “In the case of most infrastructure operators there is a regulator looking over their shoulder who will also be taking a view. You could argue that for the last 20-30 years the regulators’ key focus has been on making sure these [operators] are super efficient and keeping their costs down. There is, I think, a growing recognition that there needs to be considerable attention given to their investment programme for the future and what they are doing to ensure the resilience of their systems,” he added.
Sir John suggested that the only way of ensuring regulators place a greater emphasis on long term capital expenditure in allowing operators to invest for resilience is for government – representing the views of voters – to set standards that regulators then need to help deliver, and to give signals on how costs should be shared. “As we face the consequences of climate change on our infrastructure, we may have to face up to some unpleasant realities that if we want to have a very high level of resilience and reliability, it’s going to cost us more – and we’re all going to have to pay. That requires a conversation with the public about the risks and potential consequences,” Sir John told the committee.
Responding to questions on the best governance arrangements for ensuring appropriate levels of climate resilience, Sir John suggested that closer co-ordination and direction by the Cabinet Office or potentially the National Security Council might better drive delivery and reduce dependency on the individual political merits of different ministers. The key goal is clarity on where authority sits and the chain of command for decision making and delivery, he said.
The National Infrastructure Commission has recently embarked on work for the second National Infrastructure Assessment, to be published in 2023. The Baseline Report sets out the key areas the Commission will explore in conducting the Assessment, including better infrastructure asset management to improve resilience and how data and technology can support this.
Latest News from
National Infrastructure Commission
Commission welcomes "scale of ambition" of Energy Security Strategy08/04/2022 11:15:00
The Government has announced its ambition to boost the UK’s energy self-reliance with an expansion of clean energy generation, including new nuclear plants and a quicker expansion of solar and wind power, in its new Energy Security Strategy.
Electric Vehicle Strategy "a promising package" but delivery remains key28/03/2022 14:15:00
The government recently published its Electric Vehicle (EV) Infrastructure Strategy setting out how it plans to ensure the UK is “EV-fit” by 2030, the date after which sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned.
Commission highlights "slow progress" on infrastructure plans to deliver levelling up and net zero goals17/03/2022 16:15:00
The government is at risk of failing to deliver the aims of its National Infrastructure Strategy unless it picks up the pace with detailed policy design and implementation, the UK’s official independent infrastructure adviser has warned.
Sir John Armitt: we need a year of acceleration rather than prevarication24/02/2022 16:15:00
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt yesterday (23 February 2022) gave an address to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure offering a look ahead to the high level challenges for infrastructure networks over the next 12 months.
Join us to discuss the current state of UK infrastructure strategy11/02/2022 11:15:00
On Wednesday 16 March, the Commission will publish its annual independent stocktake of government progress on implementing its commitments to infrastructure strategy.
"Ambitious implementation programme" essential to success of Levelling Up03/02/2022 14:15:00
The government yesterday published its Levelling Up white paper setting out its programme to ensure economic opportunity is more evenly spread across the whole country.
Commission calls for "real policy changes" on utilities regulation02/02/2022 09:15:00
The government recently (31 January 2022) published a policy paper in response to the Commission’s 2019 study on regulation, Strategic Investment and Public Confidence.
Regional water plans a positive step towards drought resilience for England18/01/2022 16:15:00
Commitments by water companies to take action together to secure long term water supplies for consumers and businesses in England have been welcomed by the Commission as an important step towards achieving long term resilience to drought.