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One bright spot in the civil engineering sector emerged this month with the publication of Network Rail’s CP6 business plan covering the 2019-2024 period, committing the rail infrastructure provider to record spending of £47 billion over the period.

The plan puts less emphasis on major landmark projects and involves a 25% increase on planned spending on operations, maintenance and renewals, implying spending should be more evenly spread across the country.

According to Network Rail, thousands of UK companies are set to benefit as its advanced procurement programme for the period gets underway. The Scotland, North East and Southern regions are expected to see the largest workloads over the next five years with renewals work worth over £5bn in each region.

Procurement programmes for these three regions starts this month and get underway between now and June in the other regions. The largest area of renewals spending will be on signalling (worth around £4.5bn) and track (£3.5bn) with heavy spending also on structures, electrification and fixed plant, buildings and telecoms.

Network Rail is keen to maintain a profitable and healthy supply chain. Commercial director Matthew Steele said: "…we must remain a client of choice that engages with its supply chain in a mutually beneficial relationship, especially in what is poised to be a rapidly growing infrastructure market."

The commitment to boost rail infrastructure spending comes as the Government has faced criticism recently from the National Infrastructure Commission for being slow to take decisive action on major projects such as the Heathrow third runway and the lack of a timetable for Crossrail 2 and the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme.

But the commission’s annual monitoring report gave mixed verdicts on the progress being made on various major schemes in the pipeline which contractors will be watching keenly. It says High Speed 2 remains on track, after the latest bill covering the West Midlands – Crewe section received a second reading in the Commons ahead of scrutiny by MPs.

Progress since the election on new runway capacity in the South East also remains on track, but the commission says it is essential that a Parliamentary decision on a third runway for Heathrow is made by this summer. On the Thames Eastern Crossings, it notes concerns on delays to decisions on Silvertown Tunnel and calls for firm proposals on surface water flooding to be published.

A separate report from the Institute of Government recently suggested Britain could learn from countries such as France and the Netherlands to improve its performance on delivering major infrastructure projects. To speed up decisions, it calls for the creation for a commission for public engagement along the lines of France’s Commission Nationale du Débat Public as a cost-effective way of giving local communities a say in decisions and helping deliver projects more swiftly and efficiently. It also says the National Infrastructure Commission should be strengthened and calls for the creation of a cross-government infrastructure strategy, improved cost-benefit analysis and more Parliamentary scrutiny of infrastructure decisions.

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