The UK 2020 Budget Calls for Record Infrastructure Spending; What Does that Mean?

The UK government announced record levels of infrastructure spend recently in the 2020 Budget, including £6bn of funding for the NHS and a £1.5bn fund to improve the condition of the Further Education college estate.

HKS London’s Director of Health, Jane Ho, and Director of Education, Alfonso Padro, both offered their thoughts on how the funding has been allocated and the impact it will have in those respective sectors.

Jane: It’s great to hear that so much funding is being put into the NHS and that work is set to start on building the 40 new hospitals promised by the government. However, questions remain over whether we have the processes in place to procure major acute facilities. We also need more clarity on timings, and how these hospitals will be built in practise.

It will obviously be a number of years before we see patients treated at any of these new hospitals, it’s therefore vital the government continually invests in improving the hospitals we already have, as well as local community health services, to ensure they are up to scratch and meet the level of demand. We all know there is a huge pressure on A&E so it’s positive news that the funding will help deliver 50 million more GP surgery appointments, hopefully keeping more people out of A&E.

On a cautious note, the government does need to ensure there is enough funding left in the pipeline to operate and maintain the hospitals once they are built and adapt them as needs change in the future. The current climate of a global epidemic has really shone a light on the need for new hospitals to be flexible and easily adaptable, not just spatially but with its infrastructure, so we can, for example, insert isolation lobbies and quarantine spaces on a temporary basis.

More for Further Education

Alfonso: We are delighted that the government is investing £1.5bn to dramatically improve the entire Further Education estate. Investment in Further Education is vital in the current climate to help develop the skills needed for the UK to thrive in a post-Brexit world. We are facing a shortage of vocational skills, for example in the construction and creative industries, and this needs to be tackled imminently. The government needs to focus the funding on not only creating spaces where this training can take place but also aligned with wider teaching curriculums and adaptable spaces that can respond in the future as the demand for skills shifts.

It was also good to hear that the Education Secretary is taking forward plans to increase per pupil funding next year by an average of over 4%. However, there was no clarity as to what this funding would actually be used for – teachers, textbooks or building new schools. A portion of this should be allocated to special educational needs and disability (SEND) schools, which are currently greatly underfunded. They don’t necessarily need to be separate buildings, but facilities can be integrated into mainstream schools – this is likely more cost-effective, and a more efficient use of space.

The government urgently needs to increase its commitment to Carbon Zero schools. As well as helping to tackle the climate crisis, these schools have much lower running costs which will offset the higher capital costs. In fact, it is critical to consider whole lifetime costs. There is no point in building new schools if we can’t afford to run them, and if  we can design buildings that enable schools to spend less of their budgets on operation and maintenance, then they can spend more on education and  deliver learning benefits for students.