Speed is of the essence: Accelerating UK infrastructure projects – Four key areas of opportunity

August 2020

Infrastructure projects will be a central part of Britain’s post-coronavirus landscape. Both their direct impact - the jobs created, and the spending prompted - and their long-term value creation will provide a critical boost to the UK’s economic recovery. 

With so much riding on these projects, and with the need to deliver early benefits more pressing than ever, project delivery will be under the spotlight. As a result, it’s crucial to consider ways delivery can be optimised and accelerated. 

There are four key areas of opportunity for UK infrastructure Leaders to consider as we enter this phase of investment:

Accelerating infrastructure projects

Opportunities for accelerating UK infrastructure projects

Faster decision making

It’s well understood that extended procurement periods, business case development, governance and approval processes, planning permission and long consultation periods can often slow down infrastructure projects. As a result the overall system for major infrastructure project delivery in the UK is constrained. Our procedures are not yet optimised and designed for making decisions rapidly, and this is ultimately compounded by lack of digitisation, supporting systems and data.  Strategic decisions need to be made on an informed basis and quickly, and that requires readily available, standardised information. 

That’s not to say that to achieve their vision, the Government may not also need a new mindset. The value of the multiple layers of governance and hierarchy inherent in traditional Government decision-making needs to be considered, particularly for those projects which are mission critical.   


  • Streamline decision making and governance for approval of major projects – both the process itself and a specific plan to accelerate decision-making timeframes for key projects in the government portfolio

  • Review and improve procedures, for example, introducing standardised Business Case templates for the five case model 

  • Implement new, best in class technologies, such as machine learning, to automate and digitise procedures, with a focus on ensuring live data can be shared and connected across projects to drive programme wide insights

Prioritise speed

Projects have not historically prioritised speed of delivery in decisions about project specification, scope, governance or procurement. This has led to ambitious specifications, and complex procurement strategies, which impact on delivery times. 

Project teams lack the right skills and systems to design projects that are quick to deliver, for example, there could be more involvement of supply chain expertise in the early stages of projects. Although we see good levels of early contractor engagement, this is often after the project scope and requirements are set - limiting the supply chain's ability to influence or suggest the most efficient approach overall. Project teams would also benefit from standardised project controls platforms to make it easier to consider and model the impact of decisions on project timelines.  


  • Perform more advanced modelling and portfolio analysis to identify and prioritise the most suitable projects for acceleration 

  • Set specific acceleration objectives for prioritised projects

  • Engage supply chain input before final business case and project requirements are set - to identify the most efficient, accelerated solution to the problem

  • Take a more innovative approach to delivery, using agile project management methods and potentially mandating modular construction and standardised designs - the opportunity to fully leverage the benefits of BIM and the digital built environment is significant, but will require both Government and the supply chain to invest upfront to accelerate adoption now 

  • Standardise and streamline commercial models and routes to procurement

  • Build in requirements for assurance on a progressive basis – rather than rely on a gate review at the end of a phase - that can cause delay

Partnering with the supply chain

It could be argued that the UK’s approach to infrastructure project procurement has not fostered the scale, innovation and capability of the supply chain that is now needed to deliver a significant pipeline on an accelerated basis. 

A lack of localised sourcing has reduced domestic capacity, and contract scale and SME requirements have led to a fragmented, and non-vertically integrated supply chain. Procurement approaches have also impacted the ability of project organisations to build strategic, long term partnerships with supply chain partners. Whilst on top of this, a lack of certainty about the infrastructure pipeline has discouraged the market to invest.


  • Develop (and publish) a clear, long-term infrastructure investment strategy that provides transparency around the short and medium-term project pipeline building on the National Infrastructure Commission Needs Assessment

  • Reform procurement rules and procedures to provide more opportunities for local sourcing, and allow bidders to benefit from knowledge and insight from previous projects 

  • Create and develop a number of strategic partnerships with the private sector – leveraging their skills and experience to accelerate key projects and sectors

  • Consider how new types of supplier could be encouraged to invest in the sector to accelerate technology adoption

Learning lessons

We can only move forward, when we recognise and learn from the past. Yet to date, this has been inconsistent across programmes and authorities. Indeed, typically, this is a qualitative activity based on the most recent public project failures and how the causes have been mitigated for the project in question. It is difficult to identify lessons more holistically because there is a lack of consistent and effective change management across projects; and a lack of consistency in approaches to cataloguing lessons learned. In order to deliver value for the UK, quickly and effectively, a more structured approach to adopting lessons learned is required to reduce the risk of repeated errors and project delays in the future.


  • Prioritise identification and implementation of lessons learned across all major projects

  • Implement systems, based on high quality data, that make the lessons learned easy to share

  • Develop a consistent approach to change management and control across major projects – that will facilitate the capture of key change events and data to inform future projects

  • Introduce a requirement for new projects to review and implement recent lessons learned

Conclusion – Pursuing these opportunities to accelerate will require a number of trade offs

Prioritising speed and timely delivery of projects will require a number of trade offs to be made. The opportunity to deliver projects faster may come therefore at a cost. A cost in monetary terms, by paying more to accelerate; or a potentially negative impact to the project of a reduced scope, reduced benefits, reduced quality standards or more limited stakeholder consultation. 

These trade offs cannot be avoided, but they do need to be made confidently. Assessing and evaluating these trade offs is a complex task; requiring scenario modelling and analysis across the national infrastructure portfolio. However, given the UK’s current economic situation, speed is likely to be of the essence for infrastructure projects in 2020 and beyond. So, whilst considering these trade-offs, teams should at the very least be prioritising the hunt for ‘no regrets’, easy-win steps to accelerate delivery in the short term. 

Contact us

Chris Scudamore

Chris Scudamore

Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7841 803132

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