Following today’s Chancellor’s Budget, WSP, the engineering and professional services consultancy, has provided the industry reaction to some of the key announcements...

Delivery mindset will be key to level up
Paul Tremble Chief Strategy Officer, WSP, United Kingdom

"This Government won a landslide on a promise to end the ‘dither and delay’. On many key agendas, they are getting on with it. On others, such as climate resilience, infrastructure strategy and net zero delivery, we’ll have to wait to see the detail. In the meantime, we welcome Government’s recognition of infrastructure’s role in delivering future prosperity.

“March 2020 had been in our sector’s diary for a while as the moment where we learnt what Government’s strategy for infrastructure would contain and what it wouldn’t. Despite its publication being postponed, today’s Budget gives us a sense of what Government deems strategic. We welcome that connecting Britain’s north and south with high speed rail, rolling out 5G, boosting flood defences and promoting hydrogen are core to its plans.

“We also support the Chancellor’s eagerness to decentralise decision making away from SW1. The announcement of a new economic campus with 750 civil servants relocating to the North is positive news and perfect timing. As a review of the Green Book kicks off and a white paper on the next steps for devolution is announced, this symbolic move proves they are serious about putting the power back in the North.

“The £5 billion package to encourage exports will galvanise our sector to continue exploring opportunities in growth markets, where can bring our expertise in planning and engineering to the fore and help drive net zero globally.”

“One area still requiring clarity from Government is on the implications of the Heathrow Court of Appeal decision for other major infrastructure projects. Addressing climate change and achieving net zero by 2050 is one of the most important societal issues we face, and one which WSP fully supports, yet it should not become a reason for doing nothing. Instead, it should be the driving force for delivering inclusive prosperity.  The current uncertainty risks doing the opposite.

“In short, if this Budget was a taste of what’s to come, it’s left us wanting more. The key focus has to now be on ensuring these investment promises lead to actual levelling up across the country over the next five years. For this, strategic planning and delivery will be key, and WSP looks forward to playing its part."

Paul Tremble

Paul Tremble, Chief Strategy Officer, WSP

Engineers' rally to Government: We're here to help
Katherine Jackson Technical Director of Energy, WSP, United Kingdom

“It took a year for net zero to become a mainstream issue and one of the more important items in the Government’s in-tray. As the UK’s largest environmental consultancy, and with barely 200 days to go before COP26, we hoped this Budget would unveil this Government’s plans for delivering net zero. We will have to wait to know how we address energy efficiency, decarbonise transport and restore nature in this Year of Climate Action, but welcome that Whitehall is putting more energy into the matter.

“The dozens of local authorities we’re supporting to respond to climate emergencies, the industrial clusters and the communities we serve will undoubtedly very much welcome the further investment in flood defences and CCUS including the £800 million to establish new low carbon clusters by 2030.

“However, as we are off track to meet net zero, until the delivery plan is published industry cannot be complacent. For this reason, WSP is finalising a manifesto for net zero delivery which will be presented to Government in April. As we’ve said before, delivering net zero will require a collaborative effort, and engineers and planners stand ready to help to overcome the challenges of this transition. Problem solving and innovative thinking are part of what we do and who we are and are necessary to deliver net zero in a just and inclusive way.”

“Of course, doing this without protecting and enhancing our natural environment would be futile. This is why we were delighted to see measures around biodiversity and environment net gain such as the announcement of £640 million for a new Nature for Climate Fund.”

Katherine Jackson (2)

Katherine Jackson, Technical Director Energy, WSP

Does Government have the engine to win the mobility race?
Rachel Skinner Head of Transport, WSP, United Kingdom

“These days, as with politics, transport and future mobility are fast-moving. Almost every week we’ve had a big announcement to contend with. With encouraging top line figure announcements, Government now needs to turn its collective attention onto the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Road Investment Strategy and the announcement of the successful Future Mobility Zones, which currently remain in the Transport Secretary’s in-tray.

“Rishi Sunak gave industry and communities some encouraging signs. Potholes got more than their fair share, and there were further signals around the direction of travel when it comes to the phasing out of combustion engines. It seems clear he sees mobility and transport as key enablers when it comes to connecting the UK and levelling up places, while driving the net zero agenda.

His pledges on 5G rollout will make a big difference in spreading new mobility benefits to rural communities, while funding for stations in Darlington, Cambridge, a green light for the A303, and investment in the Manchester to Leeds Northern Powerhouse rail connection, will go some way to address intra-national connectivity.

“Further funding for the Midlands, Wales and the North was a no-brainer and something we had called for. But the levelling up agenda will not be achieved unless these big investments are delivered carefully and make the most of the opportunities the future mobility agenda provides for placemaking and connectivity.

“While the £500 million investment in fast charging points for EVs is welcome, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough for the UK to stay ahead in the mobility race”.

Rachel Skinner

Rachel Skinner, Head of Transport, WSP

The right direction of travel, at a time where speed is of the essence
Jim Coleman Director of Economics, WSP, United Kingdom

“The communities we work with were clear: greater funding for affordable homes, sustainable transport, small business support, better air quality and plans to address flood resilience from Bewdley to Snaith. In the end, they will believe the levelling up agenda when their economic prospects and quality of life tangibly improve. No consultation announcement was going to be enough this time round and the sense of urgency was palpable

“There were fears that the levelling up agenda would be side-lined as expectations to deliver economic security in the midst of COVID-19’s outbreak increased. Yet, strong signals were sent – the doubling of funding for flood defences and the confirmation of measures to deal with homelessness both confirmed Government will alleviate stresses for some of the most vulnerable in society. The £400 million housing fund for Mayors to build on brownfield sites is also a good idea.

“Announcements of a West Yorkshire devolution deal with a directly elected mayor and confirmation of £4.2 billion transport style investment in mayoral powers confirm the Government’s willingness to spread power and responsibility with the regions. Let’s hope the devolution white paper sheds further light on how Government intends to drive productivity, create inclusive local jobs in the Midlands and the North. The significant new funding is welcome, but can it be matched by real fiscal devolution that can drive local prosperity longer term?

“Unless all available means to boost local productivity are leveraged, delivering inclusive regional rebalancing for the red wall to stay blue will be challenging. Whilst heading in the right direction, this Budget came short of unleashing the game-changing policy options at the Government’s disposal, such as radical fiscal and geographical devolution. The apparent downgrading of local industrial strategies’ importance is also a concern.

Reviewing the ‘Green Book’ will not be enough to ensure this new funding is directed towards programmes with the most impact. To keep communities onside, Government will need to ensure efficient and future ready delivery, and strategic planning and project management will be essential to generate truly inclusive outcomes.”

Jim Coleman

Jim Coleman, Director of Economics, WSP

Notes to editors

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About WSP

WSP is one of the world's leading engineering professional services consulting firms. We are dedicated to our local communities and propelled by international brainpower. We are technical experts and strategic advisors including engineers, technicians, scientists, planners, surveyors and environmental specialists, as well as other design, program and construction management professionals. We design lasting solutions in the Property & Buildings, Transportation & Infrastructure, Environment, Industry, Resources (including Mining and Oil & Gas) and Power & Energy sectors as well as project delivery and strategic consulting services.

With more than 8,300 talented people in the UK and approximately 49,500 globally, we engineer projects that will help societies grow for lifetimes to come. WSP has been involved in many high-profile UK projects including the re-development of London Bridge Station and Quarter, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, HS2, Transport for the North Strategic Development Corridor studies, One Blackfriars and the Shard.