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What now for the post-Meggs IPA?

Tom Fitzpatrick

The appointment of Tony Meggs as Crossrail chairman is interesting, not least because I understand he had already decided to leave the Infrastructure and Projects Authority before the role became available.

It was understood that Mr Meggs was set to move on after four years at the Major Projects Authority, and then as CEO at the newly-formed IPA.

He will be missed at the IPA but will hopefully bring the amazing Crossrail project back on track and do some work on lessons that need to be learned for future infrastructure providers.  

His current deputy CEO Matthew Vickerstaff will be CEO on an interim basis from 1 January while a successor is sought. Mr Vickerstaff will be favourite to land the job permanently, but what are the main challenges the new CEO faces?

Firstly, they will need to get the private sector re-engaged.

With Brexit taking up everyone’s time and a sense that the IPA is still ‘Whitehall talking to Whitehall’, the new CEO could do with bringing in more private sector expertise to keep the industry enthused.

Part of Mr Vickerstaff’s role (and expertise) when he was brought in was to look at PFI/PF2.

Now the chancellor has waved his political grandstanding wand and announced the end of PFI, it makes the likelihood of a PF3 being launched remote.

But with PFI assets starting to mature and ready to be transferred back to the public sector, it will be interesting to see the government’s strategic approach to maintenance of those assets.

The treasury still needs (and wants) to get private finance in and build a PF3 in all but name, so that will be a key challenge for the IPA in 2019.

It’s entirely possible, or likely even, that the new CEO will need to cement his relationship with a new chancellor in 2019, regardless of Britain’s place within the new EU.

Any new chancellor would need to be convinced of the merits of being advised on strategic infrastructure by the IPA, its ability to work with industry on financial solutions like UK Guarantees and to keep major projects on track.

Putting some meat on the bones of the government’s presumption in favour of offsite construction would also be useful.

The government’s National Infrastructure Pipeline is still more of a demonstration by the government that it is building things, than a useful tool for the industry or commitment to spending.

Working with organisations including the Construction Leadership Council (which Tony Meggs currently sits on) will be more useful, for shaping the future of the industry.

When Mr Meggs sat down with Construction News this time last year, he pointed to Tideway as an example of the positive impact of the IPA, where it helped to create a project structure, bring in financing and monitor the programme’s delivery.

A year on, market conditions and engineering challenges have seen Tideway launch a cost-saving exercise with their contractors, with HS2 doing similar.

After the woes of Crossrail and Network Rail, and cost-saving challenges at high-profile projects, getting major infrastructure and the UK’s reputation to deliver back on track will be important.

One suggestion? Perhaps the IPA can be the platform for a major government-industry summit looking at delivering infrastructure and financing and liquidity in the industry.

You can’t move today without hearing someone say the industry’s contracting model is broken. If that’s the case and with more contractors struggling to raise finance as providers shrink their exposure to the sector, the government could do with learning more and intervening.

When John Prescott intervened on health and safety almost two decades ago it was because enough was enough. Some new and brave ideas are required before it’s too late to ensure the industry and economy don’t suffer further in 2019.

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