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Adonis's commission departure sparks infrastructure concerns

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Engineers and experts have called for National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) deputy chair Sir John Armitt to take over from former chair Lord Adonis following his resignation from the role due to disagreements with the government, LGC’s sister title New Civil Engineer reports.

Lord Adonis’ resignation comes at a crucial time for the Commission ahead of an assessment into Britain’s infrastructure priorities over the next 30 years, expected to be published in June. An interim report published in October last year found the UK is in danger of falling behind if it does not improve infrastructure. 

Lord Adonis, who had chaired the commission since it was established in 2015, resigned on Friday citing disagreements with the government over Brexit and what he claimed was transport secretary Chris Grayling’s “bailout” of the Virgin/Stagecoach East Coast franchise.

Association for Consultancy and Engineering chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin said: “Throughout his career Lord Adonis has served infrastructure well, yet he can be especially proud of what he achieved as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission where he was a champion for our industry at the heart of government.

“We urgently need to secure a credible individual, such as current deputy Sir John Armitt, to step-up as chair to maintain the commission’s momentum and its vital role in reminding ministers and civil servants, who may be distracted by issues surrounding Brexit, of the long-term importance of infrastructure investment to the economy and society.”

Institute for Government associate director Nick Davies echoed this and said Sir John is “widely respected across party political lines, with industry as well” and “would do the job very effectively”. He added that it is important for the credibility of the NIC that the first assessment is done well and that a replacement is appointed quickly.

Lord Adonis is the second high-profile departure from the NIC after Lord Heseltine was sacked from his government advisor role last year, also over Brexit disagreements. The resignation of its chairman over disagreements with the government has highlighted the commission’s status as an executive agency of the Treasury rather than a non-departmental public body.

The independence of the NIC is a “key component” of its credibility, said Mr Davies.

“Although legally it isn’t that independent, to date it has operated in a very independent manner,” he said. ”To a certain extent that has been driven by the personalities involved, so I think there’s a risk if the new chair might not be as independently minded as Lord Adonis has been.

“The independence is critical to the effectiveness of the NIC and that should never be dependent on personalities or on the good will of individual departments.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “Historically, the development of infrastructure in the UK has lacked long-term strategy, which has led to delays in the delivery of large projects.

“To this end, CECA has long supported the establishment of the National Infrastructure Commission to deliver the long-term strategy the UK needs.

“The commission’s work to develop a comprehensive roadmap that identifies and delivers on Britain’s infrastructure priorities continues to be extremely important to ensure the UK’s infrastructure truly meets the expectations of business and the general public, and supports our economic growth in the years to come.”

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