100Vision ideas towards the Draft Infrastructure Bill
The 100Vision contributions to the Draft Infrastructure Bill have focused on the participation of the public and politicians in the work of the proposed National Infrastructure Commission, setting new standards in openness and transparency and the need to raise awareness of infrastructure in general.
The 100Vision ideas for the National Infrastructure Commission include:
- Having sustaining and improving quality of life its founding goal alongside economic growth
- Enshrining the full involvement of people and politicians in long-term infrastructure decision-making as a founding principle.
- A national awareness campaign on what infrastructure is and why it needs improving
- A clear, published engagement timetable, process, milestones and objectives
- Guiding and monitoring engagement carried out on specific sector and infrastructure project plans that flow from the Commission’s national priorities and acting as a central source of information
- Challenging, innovating and renewing its approach to engagement
- Becoming embedded in UK public and political life
- Setting high standards in governance, culture and behaviour
- Moving to and being based in a different part of the UK every 5 years
- Generating debate and being open to challenge and ideas, including through the creation of a national infrastructure data resource, open to all
Enshrining public benefit in the Draft Bill
Stating that alongside economic growth the goal of the Commission would be ‘sustaining and improving the quality of life in the UK’ will make clearer the public benefit to improving infrastructure planning. The public is skeptical about whether economic growth alone will always benefit them personally and the bill needs to look at infrastructure from more than just a business point of view (traffic jams, full trains and flooding are as bad for quality of life as they are for business).
Establishing the need for long term infrastructure planning
While the Armitt review and other activity have increased commentator and public understanding of the need for improved infrastructure, this is not yet at the level to enable a fully informed national discussion about our future infrastructure needs.
Industry business and other organisations could establish and fund a six month campaign to run immediately after the election, regardless of the Government formed, with the sole objective of increasing understanding of the need for long term infrastructure improvements. It could be a rainbow coalition of a range of cross-sector companies, federations, unions, local government and NGOs who share this goal, funded by companies and industry federations.
Communications, engagement, openness and transparency
The approach established to consultation and engagement will drive the reputation of the Commission and validity of its recommendations.
The involvement of the public, national and local politicians, and interested and affected groups in the Commission’s work will help build support for its outcomes.
The draft Bill is an opportunity to make this intent clear by stating that a founding principle of the Commission will be to fully involve the public, politicians and other bodies in deciding together the country’s infrastructure needs and the development of long-term plans to meet them.
Many are skeptical of the ‘consultation’ method in practice and a clear and credible timetable, objectives and methodology will provide reassurance from the outset that true participation and active engagement is a fundamental part of the Commission’s work and purpose.
The Commission should aim to set new standards in openness, transparency, governance and consultation and make this clear at the outset. The Commission will need to be approachable, embedded in public life and have a ‘human face’.
This could be achieved by establishing founding principles to guide the Commission’s consultation, communications, behaviour and policies, such as:
- The public, politicians and specialists setting the nation’s infrastructure priorities together through a clear timeframe and process
- A Commission embedded in British public and political life working with and for people and politicians
- An open Commission that helps generates debate, research and ideas
Below are some initial thoughts on what each of these principles could include.
1) The public, politicians and specialists setting the nation’s infrastructure priorities together through a clear and understandable timeframe and process
A clear consultation timeframe and process
A visual demonstration is the clearest way to explain the connected engagement timetable of the Commission and Parliament on the priorities and Government departments on the detail. It would show where and how people can get involved, highlighting the ongoing nature of the work.
A draft 10-year engagement cycle for UK long-term infrastructure planning
|Years 0-3||Years 3-4||Years 4-5||Years 5-10 (and ongoing)|
|30 year National Infrastructure Assessment||Parliament debate & decide on assessment & priorities||Government Departments consult on & agree Sector Infrastructure Plans||Specific schemes & projects within Sector Infrastructure plans|
Each of these stages provide opportunities to ensure that the public and politicians are fully informed and engaged in the decision-making process, from setting the top level priorities through to the detail of individual projects.
Although the Commission will only be directly responsible for carrying out the engagement around the first stage of each ten-year cycle there will be a requirement to coordinate the communication and engagement throughout, as well as a need to maintain an up-to-date central source of information. This would help ensure a consistency of approach between the Commission and Government departments on matters of consultation and engagement.
For example, while the individual Government departments will consult on their individual Sector Infrastructure Plans and agencies will consult on specific projects, a central timetable, database of interested people and organisations and source of information for all of this work would be an efficient solution that avoids confusion and duplication. Also, this ongoing coordinating role would enable the Commission to maintain its profile and relationships throughout the consultation cycle rather than ramping up and down every five years.
The Commission could also share and encourage best practice in engaging people with infrastructure issues, ideas and projects. The Commission could also include engagement quality in its monitoring role of plans and projects.
It should be noted that, as technology changes, expectations of consultation and engagement will alter. This means that best practice needs to evolve and the Commission should help lead and harness the development of new techniques.
There has been a call for a fixed form of engagement to be specified in the Bill, however it may be preferable to enable the NIC to adapt and renew the strategy and structure at the outset of each assessment period according to changes in technology and culture and lessons from the previous assessment.
Clear consultation objectives and milestones
The Commission should demonstrate its commitment to involving the public and politicians by setting objectives and milestones towards reaching them. These could include, for example, the percentage of the population that engages with the National Infrastructure Assessment with specific targets for sections of the population according to region, age, income, etc.
These objectives and milestones should set out an objective and externally managed measurement of progress, such as opinion polling. This will help to gain public and political trust.
The challenge for the National Infrastructure Commission is to utilise innovations in campaigning and consultation techniques to reach beyond already interested groups and individuals to engage large and often unrepresented groups in the decision-making process. This approach, alongside statutory consultation requirements, could include:
- Mass phone conferences
- Town hall meetings
- Focused door to door canvassing in a selection of targeted and representative areas using political database technology (ie rural wealthy, rural poor, urban large, urban small, suburban, seaside, industrial)
- A town centre roadshow & questionnaire
- TV documentary with vote (i.e. recent BBC/NESTA science funding award)
- ‘National debate’ through commercial radio network
- Schools programme and discussion resources
- Ideas competitions and third party partnerships
- Online and social media engagement: films, images, polls
The Commission could also consider the development of its own core list of ‘statutory’ partners or contributors – the bodies that are engaged as a matter of course but are also encouraged to circulate papers and work with the Commission to draw in comments. This would be a way of enhancing engagement and providing certainty to particular bodies or groups.
2) A Commission embedded in British public and political life working with and for people and politicians
The draft Bill will describe the role and responsibility of national and local government to discuss and agree on the National Infrastructure Plans proposed by the Commission. It would also be useful to commit at this stage to engaging and informing politicians and decision-makers outside of the formal consultation and decision-making process.
When the detail of this engagement is developed it could include:
- Individual and group briefings and drop-in sessions
- Issue-specific expert presentations and open discussions
- Regular email and written updates
- Invites to attend consultation events
- A resource pack to utilise locally
- Fringe discussions at all party political conferences
Setting high standards in governance, culture and behaviour
The short, simple and straightforward mission of the National Infrastructure Commission should be agreed at the outset along with a set of values and/or objectives.
This should include, for example: clear policies on appointments, equality, pay and rewards, conflicts of interests, expenses, meetings, confidentiality/transparency, freedom and proactive sharing of information, responsiveness, funding, communications, etc. In these and other areas it is important to demonstrate that the Commission is aiming to set best practice.
Decisions made with the whole country
A commitment should be made to engage every part of the UK in decisions about our infrastructure needs, including those with devolved Governments. The engagement process is an important part of this but so is the physical structure and nature of the Commission, which could consider basing itself if in a different UK region/city every five years ahead of the next National Infrastructure Assessment.
The Commission also needs to avoid becoming too focused on the national, at the expense of the local view.
In addition, if the Commission feels that departmental approaches to consultation are lacking then it should work with the Cabinet Office in ensuring that they meet the standards expected by the Commission.
3) An open Commission that helps generates debate, research and ideas
Neither the Commission nor the current crop of infrastructure experts has the monopoly on new ideas. Evidence shows that the most powerful ideas tend to emerge from connections between different sectors, specialisms and individuals and through publicly funded research and quality data [Where good ideas come from, Steven Johnson].
The Commission should lead the way in combining the ‘big data’ and ‘open source’ movements by publishing the raw data analysed in reports, in a format that enables academics and others to explore and examine the data.
This open and free national infrastructure database could be facilitated and managed by an academic institution and/or an organisation. Its use could be encouraged through academic programmes and public competitions run in partnership with media, think tanks or other organisations.
Such an open approach will facilitate the crowdsourcing of ideas and could potentially open up commercial opportunities as well.
Through the engagement process the Commission should aim to encourage debate and personal engagement in decisions on national infrastructure. This could include communications in a range of media starkly setting out the likely outcomes of not investing in infrastructure or the benefits of previous investments in infrastructure (ie life expectancy & sewage). The Commission should be encouraging and receptive to debate and criticism.
Effective engagement with the public, groups and politicians could determine the success of the Commission and support for its recommendations.
The draft Bill and/or associated documents should include a commitment to setting the nation’s infrastructure together through a comprehensive and innovative engagement strategy with a clear timetable and a number of ways that people can get involved.
The draft Bill is also an opportunity to categorically commit to the principles that will drive the Commission’s detailed policies and procedures when they are developed.