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‘If I had one wish’: Costain CEO calls for infrastructure minister | Construction News


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Costain’s chief executive has called for the next UK government to appoint a cabinet-level minister to get a grip of infrastructure delivery.

In an interview with Construction News, Costain chief executive Alex Vaughan outlined a set of priorities for the upcoming general election, aimed at delivering improved performance in the sector.

His intervention comes after the government ramped up its efforts to speed up the delivery of major infrastructure projects.

Last week it named barrister Charles Banner to lead a review into tackling delays stymying infrastructure schemes.

“If I had one wish for the next government, it would be to appoint a minister for infrastructure at cabinet level,” Vaughan said as he announced his firm’s annual results for 2023.

“Infrastructure needs to join up every single department and we need to have a strategic, joined up approach to how we deliver the nation’s infrastructure in the most efficient, productive way possible,” he said.

Vaughan also called for a long-term plan for infrastructure and a revamp of planning rules to boost major civils projects.

“[We need to] have a long term programmatic plan, a 10-year-plan, that will allow consistency and continuity, and that would allow us to really drive productivity improvement,” he said.

Costly planning delays have long been a spanner in the works for some major infrastructure projects, with jobs including the Silvertown Tunnel and the Stonehenge Tunnel frustrated by lengthy planning battles.

“[We need to] unlock the planning constraints and challenges,” Vaughan said – revealing that both the Conservative and Labour parties have been “keen to address planning” with him ahead of the next general election, which is set to happen later this year.

“[It’s about] making sure that we’ve got sensible consent, that we don’t make the delivery of infrastructure more expensive because we impose lots of obligations and requirements,” he said.

“That is the one area that I’m certainly seeing both parties focused on because they can see that too much delay surrounds infrastructure projects.”

Addressing other matters, Vaughan declined to comment on the Office for Rail and Road’s (ORR) announcement last month that it is launching an investigation into National Highways over performance concerns.

However, he said the roads body is an “exemplar” client in the infrastructure space.

“What I would say is that National Highways is a very progressive customer in the market,” he said. “It procures very strategically, [and] it works in collaborative long-term relationships with its supply chain.

“It gets its supply chain involved. I think what they do is exemplar for the way that infrastructure can get delivered,” he said.

Vaughan’s firm was the largest recipient of spending from the body in both 2021/22 and 2022/23.

Costain reported a reduced pre-tax profit for last year, after it spent £8m restructuring its business.

Turnover was also down, but cash levels increased and the contractor said it expects to benefit from increased workloads in the water and energy sectors in coming years.

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