Fairer, Faster, Greener. The UK Government has clearly set out its vision for economic recovery from the pandemic, with ambitious objectives for ‘levelling up’ across the country and decarbonising the economy to transition to Net Zero by 2050.
The launch of the National Infrastructure Strategy in November 2020 set out a raft of infrastructure investment to support the realisation of this vision. But the Government faces a significant challenge. Given the size of public borrowing in response to the pandemic, and the scale of the Government’s ambitions, it cannot afford to invest in projects that will not deliver its objectives. And practically, to realise such a broad range of often competing outcomes, there will need to be a step-change improvement in how projects are appraised.
Acknowledging this, the Government recently announced a number of significant reforms to the Green Book, its guidance on how public spending proposals should be appraised and evaluated.
These reforms will go some way towards delivering better projects, and the Government’s decision to support their implementation with additional training for project teams, and a strengthened role for reviewers, should make them even more effective. But it’s clear both further detail and a focus on delivery are still required to start a new chapter for the UK.
The reforms to the Green Book are a welcome first step towards more effective public spending, but they are only a first step. If the Government wants to realise its vision, it needs to continue to invest in building the capability, systems and culture needed to support a complex and ambitious portfolio of public spending. The need to get our response right has never been greater.