Locale : Global (English)
The purpose of infrastructure is to improve people’s lives
A people-focused, systems-based view of infrastructure will support the business case for projects that deliver better social outcomes.
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Making the business case for inclusive infrastructure

We need to rethink the way we develop business cases to unlock the potential of infrastructure to improve people’s lives and transform communities, writes Kerry Scott, Mott MacDonald’s global practice leader for social outcomes.

In the world’s major developed economies, we’ve been building rail infrastructure for more than 200 years. Land uses and the human geography of our major urban areas have evolved around these networks. We’re connected by this legacy – but not always very well.

While some elements of our built environment are carefully planned, it has largely grown in an ad hoc way. Individual assets have been designed and delivered in silos, rather than as part of a grand vision.

What has emerged is a ‘system of systems’ – multiple assets and systems which are connected to and dependent on one another. A complex, interconnected machine, which underpins our communities and provides the essential services on which people depend.

What has emerged is a ‘system of systems’ – multiple assets and systems which are connected to and dependent on one another. A complex machine, which underpins our communities and provides the essential services on which people depend. In particular, our rail networks, which are relatively inflexible and costly to change, play an important role but do not always reflect modern needs and the true value of the assets and services can be underappreciated.

Delivered in the right way, rail stations and services can improve the accessibility of housing and amenities, reduce poverty and inequality, widen access to jobs and education, make communities more resilient to climate change, and promote public health and wellbeing. Social outcomes like these are the very purpose of infrastructure: to serve society and improve the quality of people’s lives.

Yet the current business case system does not enable us to factor in and place a value on such outcomes. Traditional methodology looks at only what can be monetised, typically the time and cost involved in getting from A and B.

The focus is on the short-term economic return of assets in isolation. We don’t assess the ‘success’ or performance of assets in terms of how they fit into the system of systems and deliver long-term outcomes that benefit the whole of society.

Only when a holistic approach to “value” in business cases is adopted, in order to recognise the interdependency between infrastructure and society, will we be able to secure greater investment for infrastructure projects which deliver more inclusive social outcomes.

Outcomes should drive development

Consider the link between social development and economic output. Transport networks, for example, that are made more accessible and inclusive through investing in public transport, will open up opportunities for employment, education and training.

This will foster economic activity from groups that are often more under-represented in employment markets including jobseekers, low-income families and young people.

Improving access to secure and stable employment boosts people’s spending power, stimulating demand for goods and services. More jobs mean more tax revenues for local and central government. Lower levels of deprivation will reduce demand placed on public services. In short, reducing income inequality is good for business.

There are also economic opportunities to be realised from making our built environment more accessible for people with diverse needs, such as older and disabled people, to shop, eat out and socialise. There are barriers which such groups face, which can often be easily addressed to further reduce inequality .

In the UK, the ‘grey pound’ is estimated to be worth £215bn annually, according to Saga, while Scope estimates that the total spending power of families with at least one disabled person is £249bn a year. If our rail networks are constraining access and failing to offer connectivity among these groups, we need to understand how and why. We can then propose interventions to make our stations and services more inclusive, delivering value beyond time and cost.

However, it is only when a holistic approach to business cases is adopted that we will be able to put forward a much stronger argument for greater investment un rail infrastructure projects which deliver more inclusive social outcomes.

What really counts is lasting social change

We should of course be driven by the social outcomes we want to realise, not just by the lure of economic returns.

Holistic infrastructure planning involves recognising the potential of assets to convert financial value into societal value, moving beyond benefit-cost analysis to capturing whole-life benefits.

We need to rethink how to evaluate success, reappraise what growth means. Typically, growth is measured in terms of increases to gross domestic product and gross value added, or the number of jobs created. These are very worthy and beneficial outputs, but they only get us so far.

Delivery of better social outcomes will require the rail sector to see things through a wider, more inclusive lens. It involves understanding how impacts might be distributed and experienced by different sections of society and

– looking at what really counts, rather than what we can count.

Increasing ambition, fulfilling potential

As an industry, we must be more ambitious and help prioritise lasting social change. We need to adopt a more integrated approach to infrastructure planning, financing and delivery, one that recognises the long-term, system-wide and societal value of infrastructure provision.

At a macro level, by addressing the deficiencies in current business case models, we will help to develop the system-based strategy for managing infrastructure that is needed to ensure all assets – existing and new, and the connections and interdependencies between them – function effectively as a system of systems.

If we succeed in this, we will unlock the full potential of rail stations and services to fulfil their ultimate purpose – serving society and improving people’s lives and livelihoods. We will be able to help transform places, contributing to a future society that is more economically prosperous, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable.

Jon Crockett

Technical principal, Mott MacDonald

Kerry Scott

Global practice leader for social outcomes, Mott MacDonald

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