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Shane MacSweeney, Partner, EY, sets out what he believes needs to be put in place to deliver the objectives of Ireland 2040 Our Plan
The late, great TK Whitaker made infrastructure investment a centrepiece of the plan that led to the modern Irish economy. Now, in 2018, with the recent publication of the National Planning Framework (NPF), infrastructure and its correlation with sustainable economic growth is again centre-stage.
The NPF sets out an ambitious vision for what our society will look like in 2040 when our population is forecast to have grown by over a million. Underpinning this vision, the National Development Plan (NDP) outlines a significant level of investment (€116bn) over the next ten years, in sectors such as transport, housing and water.
The dedication of funds to projects in priority growth regions should be welcomed and will help to spread recovery. Importantly, the Capital Plan will build on the recent economic recovery and will begin to address infrastructure deficit while providing for sustainable economic growth.
As the dust settles on the NPF’s launch, we now need to focus on turning this ambitious vision into a reality and leveraging the momentum to date. But how can we ensure that the NDP is not just another capital plan?
It’s vital the NDP has an equally ambitious delivery plan. Numerous countries, including Australia, UK, and Canada, have introduced such plans to realise their long-term infrastructure goals, and wider societal economic objectives. Ireland needs to follow their lead to ensure the NPF is a success. Such plans would typically include:
- Economic Prioritisation: An overview of how projects are prioritised over the 10-year period, based on sound economic rationale, derived from a benefits realisation programme
- Robust Project Pipeline: This would provide for a whole-of-Government integrated approach, offering a degree of certainty around project timing, etc, allowing the private sector to invest and mobilise. The NRA successfully adopted this approach for their Public Private Partnership Roads Programme in the 2000s
- Innovative Delivery Solutions: Including leveraging the private sector, embracing new technologies, and developing alternative financing methods. It is critical that we are open to new ideas, as many of our delivery solutions may not have been invented yet
- Risk Mitigation: How delivery risks (skills shortages, etc) would be mitigated, and what longer-term solutions can be implemented now. For example, what skills will be needed in five years and what education and training is needed now?
- Improving Performance and Monitoring Success: Given the life of the NDP, constantly refreshing it and maintaining it as a ‘live’ document will ensure that our growing population acutely feels the benefits
- Governance: Australia has a dedicated Minister for Infrastructure together with Infrastructure Australia, a body established to play a key role in prioritising and progressing infrastructure projects. Ireland similarly needs a focused and co-ordinated entity to deliver our ambitions
The above will ensure that we maintain our focus and energy over the next 10 years. After the underinvestment of recent years, we almost need to start treating infrastructure expenditure as current expenditure, ie business as usual. We cannot afford to lose another decade.
Shane MacSweeney, Partner with Ernst and Young (EY) with Responsibility for Government & Infrastructure.