Build Back Smarter – The Future of Infrastructure Post-Covid

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As the economic cost of the Covid-pandemic continues to mount, political debate has turned towards how to drive the recovery. As has been the case following previous economic crises, the UK Government has signalled a desire to invest in infrastructure, with a programme of “Building Back Better”. By creating jobs, injecting stimulus, and generating demand in supply chains, infrastructure projects have formed key parts of the economic recovery from the Great Depression, World War II, and, most pertinently, the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918. However, the way we think about infrastructure is changing as existing trends in behaviour toward remote working have been accelerated by the pandemic. Making sure that new infrastructure reflects those changes will be beneficial for the Government and for the country. A shift in policy focus to digital and local infrastructure could incur a lower cost than the grand projects of the past, with the rewards more dispersed throughout the country.

One of the Government’s mantras since the General Election has been “build, build, build”. This should perhaps be unsurprising considering the man at its helm.

The Prime Minister has an almost Victorian preoccupation with building grand new projects, as seen during his time as Mayor of London with proposals for a new airport on “Boris island” and a garden bridge across the Thames. He has since attracted headlines with the idea of a bridge connecting Northern Ireland and Scotland.

While he may talk the talk on infrastructure, he is yet to walk the walk – these projects were not successfully followed through. The scale of the current crisis demands a policy response of equal magnitude. However, crises can also present opportunities. The opportunity to radically rethink the UK’s approach to infrastructure due to Covid may align with the Government’s aim to “level up” the regions and hold onto their new ‘Red Wall’ seats.

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