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An Opportunity We Cannot Refuse: Infrastructure

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It has long been accepted that infrastructure development is a vital piece of the growth puzzle. David Cameron certainly subscribes to this mantra, having put infrastructure at the heart of his growth strategy when he outlined a huge £30bn investment over the next four years.

At Davos last week, too, infrastructure was high on the agenda. Boris Johnson, now in full election flow, came back from the slopes revealing that investors are queuing-up to invest in London, with its 'amazing and improving' infrastructure a major draw. One investor in Davos reportedly told the Mayor he wanted to invest £10bn in London.

Clearly that mysterious investor hasn't paid £2.70 for a rush hour trip into town from Clapham Common on the Northern Line anytime lately, but that's neither here nor there.

What that conversation does exemplify, however, is the huge importance of infrastructure not only in improving the efficiency of domestic business but in growing the inclination for foreign inward investment.

A recent list of the world's top 100 global projects for 2012 includes four in the UK. The possible value of the entire list is a huge $800bn and, interestingly, the four UK projects comprise a sizeable $93bn of that total.

That suggests one of two things: game-changing infrastructure projects are increasingly expensive on a global scale, or it is something specific to the UK, where large projects are either incredibly ambitious or prohibitively expensive. Whatever the answer, it is clear that infrastructure investment is a big bet - to move the needle on the UK's competitiveness in an increasingly globalised economy you have to be bold, and you have to take risk.

The UK is seen as the global centre for infrastructure expertise, largely due to our strong engineering industry added to financial and professional services expertise. This is why a gathering of the world's movers-and-shakers in this sector is taking place in London later this month, with an incredibly impressive list of organisations taking part.

I would assume the focus at that conference will not be investment in the UK - the prime minister's National Infrastructure Plan has shown the world how serious this area is taken here - but about concerns with the huge funding gap in developing countries around the world.

At a point in which the global economy is balancing between growth and a return to recession, the hosts of that gathering - CG/LA Infrastructure - estimate that investment is falling short of targets by 10-20%, or a huge $500bn.

That's 54 Olympic Games, 31 Crossrails, 29 HS2s or 625 Wembley Stadiums. In other words, a whole lot of infrastructure.

This represents a huge opportunity for a number of different sectors in the UK and a real chance to deliver on the Coalition Government's aim to export its way to growth. Britain is not only a world-leader in investing in itself, but also a leader in advising on global projects.

At a time when we are soul-searching about what future economic specialisms will look like, this is an area of expertise we would be mad not to grab with both hands.

Around the Web

Infrastructure UK - HM Treasury

BBC News - China eyes UK infrastructure investment to boost growth

Infrastructure Planning Commission

'For sale' sign goes up over UK infrastructure projects - FT.com

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