15 June 2021

What is the role of Infrastructure Bodies in delivering better infrastructure around the world?

Written by Sam Barr
15 June 2021

In March 2021, the Global Infrastructure Hub (GI Hub) and Infrastructure Australia hosted the inaugural International Forum of Infrastructure Bodies (I-Bodies). The golden thread running throughout the forum was the pivotal role I-Bodies play in either strategic planning for infrastructure or funding and financing infrastructure in their jurisdictions.

In addition, discussions showed that central I-Bodies play a major role in addressing multi-sector issues – such as the link between infrastructure investment and the journey towards net zero emissions, or increasing the uptake of digital technology in the infrastructure sector.

Dedicated I-Bodies within government are a relatively new concept. While having internal specialist teams that look at various parts of the infrastructure puzzle is as old as government, the idea of stand-alone I-Bodies with cross-sectoral responsibilities is a fairly new one.

What are some of the roles that I-Bodies around the world play, and how can these roles benefit the planning, financing and delivery of quality infrastructure?

Strategic Planning

A key role of many I-Bodies is to undertake long-term strategic infrastructure planning that addresses the future infrastructure needs of a jurisdiction. This type of planning takes place over a much longer timeline, usually 20 years, while a government’s forward capital plan typically spans between two to four years.

Long-term strategic infrastructure planning sets out infrastructure challenges and opportunities, and addresses them with a planned response. For example, the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Infrastructure Commission undertook a National Infrastructure Assessment in 2018, providing the UK Government with a platform to make long-term decisions about their future infrastructure investments. The Government responded with the National Infrastructure Strategy in November 2020 adopting most of the National Infrastructure Assessment’s recommendations.

Through long-term infrastructure planning, I-Bodies act as critical drivers of best practice infrastructure planning. Countries that have a project pipeline can showcase upcoming infrastructure projects opportunities, providing investors and other participants with a clear indication of future infrastructure activity.

For example, Infrastructure Australia released their updated Infrastructure Priority List in February 2021. The List is a spatially navigable tool that provides a long-term, cross-sectoral overview of specific infrastructure projects.

Public-Private Partnerships

Some I-Bodies also have a function dedicated to infrastructure delivered through public-private partnerships (PPPs). I-Bodies provide a centre of best procurement practice within government, starting with the procurement decision itself, asking what degree of private sector involvement is optimal.

A dedicated body that assesses this and other questions around private financing of infrastructure can support better decision making, standardise best practice, and drive consistency across government investment decisions.

Infrastructure Ontario plays this role in Canada, acting as procurement and commercial lead for all major infrastructure projects in [the province]. Depending on jurisdiction, central I-Body functions can sit at either the national or subnational level. 

Other roles

There are several other roles that I-Bodies play to the benefit of infrastructure planning and delivery. Some of the most important among these include:

  • Community engagement – I-Bodies can harness community views, galvanise support and provide social license for projects
  • Major project monitoring, management and reporting for existing projects and those under construction to give governments greater visibility of their infrastructure portfolio
  • Convening power - I-Bodies can use their position in the centre of government to support better cooperation between different arms of the government
  • Develop infrastructure policy that can improve aspects of infrastructure planning and delivery, including supporting infrastructure that is more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive.
  • Injecting financial expertise and best practice into the development of often complex financial arrangements

Conclusion

There is an abundance of roles that a well-resourced, centralised I-Body can play – all of which can support the development of quality infrastructure that is sustainable, resilient and inclusive.

The cross-sectoral nature of these organisations means they are well-suited to tackling problems that cut across government. This includes working towards net zero emissions – likely to be an unavoidable policy commitment for most governments in the next few decades.

Like many public policy decisions, jurisdictions should make decisions around creating an I-Body based on their unique circumstances.

While there are certainly benefits to a central I-Body, the way in which such a body might be developed will vary markedly from country to country. The only guiding principle should always be that the best infrastructure investment decisions are getting made for the long-term benefit of citizens.

To discuss this article, or have a conversation about infrastructure bodies or infrastructure more broadly, contact GI Hub’s Partnership Manager Sam Barr (sam.barr@gihub.org.) 

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