Transport and communications need shake-up: CBI

England’s transport and communications infrastructure needs improving, the CBI says

A shake-up of England’s transport and communications infrastructure is needed to give manufacturers access to a wide pool of labour and improved connectivity of supply chains, according to a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report.

The report, Shaping Regional Infrastructure, was based on businesses’ responses – including those from food and drink manufacturers – to CBI’s 2016 infrastructure survey.

Improving links between the UK’s largest cities could help drive growth and productivity, it claimed and lead to a £175bn boost to the economy.

In the north of England, reducing travel times between cities could provide access to a working population of up to 16M – the same number of people that live within an hour’s travel from London.

There were also productivity gains to be made by shortening travel times within local areas, claimed the CBI. Increasing the speed of travel within cities by 50% could increase productivity by up to 14%, it said.

New and existing international markets

Businesses also wanted a long-term aviation strategy that made better use of regional airports. Better links to these airports were vital in connecting firms with new and existing international markets for exports.

However, CBI infrastructure director Rhian Kelly said that only a quarter of the firms asked said they were satisfied with their region’s infrastructure.

“Infrastructure is a key driver of productivity. By making it easier for staff to get to work and by better connecting companies to their customers, markets overseas and supply chains, we could do a great deal to lift England’s productivity,” said Kelly.

“Moreover, ramping up trade with international partners – old, new and in all corners of the world – will be crucial to making a success of Brexit.”

Firms wanted to see a more joined up approach to delivery across the different types of infrastructure – from housing to energy to transport – claimed the CBI report.  

Businesses also wanted clarity on where decisions on changes to the nation’s infrastructure would be made, as less than half (47%) thought devolution would lead to material improvements.

Crucial driver of increased productivity

The CBI found that 94% of firms it surveyed also saw technology as a crucial driver of increased productivity. Improvements to broadband and mobile infrastructure would help modernise working practices, said the CBI.

Access to fast internet has been made easier, thanks to an Ofcom ruling, which has forced telecoms provider BT to give its competitors equal access to its Openreach fibre-optic broadband infrastructure. Ofcom said the move was to encourage the building of super-fast broadband networks.

According to the EEF, 91% of manufacturers viewed high-speed internet as essential to business as electricity and water. More than a third spent more than £5,000 a year on internet connections.

Head of business environment policy at EEF Chris Richards said the announcement by Ofcom would provide a significant boost to competition and the quality of digital infrastructure available to manufacturers.

“Manufacturers investing in new digital technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution will welcome today’s [April 20] announcement as it unpicks a potential major barrier to progress,” he said.

“Today’s announcement also marks another major milestone in building a full-fibre digital infrastructure network across the country.”

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