8. Wider Points
8.1 This final section identifies the main wider points raised in the consultation responses.
Infrastructure Projects Identified in the Draft IPP
8.2 As highlighted in Section 1, the consultation attracted significant interest from across a wide range of organisations with a direct role and/or interest in infrastructure across its many different forms. Across all of the consultation questions there are a range of specific comments that:
- Note disagreement with some of the major infrastructure projects and programmes that are confirmed within the Draft IIP (e.g. the balance of transport expenditure on the road building programme compared to low carbon transport/active travel/shared transport options).
- Put forward the case for investment in certain types of infrastructure projects and/or investment aimed at certain geographic areas.
- Note a lack of transparency and clarity on how the Scottish Government has taken on board the Common Investment Hierarchy to inform decision-making for the national projects outlined in the Draft IIP, and that it is also not clear how environmental impacts have been assessed.
- Request that assurance is provided by the Scottish Government that the new infrastructure assessment framework and methodology to enable system wide infrastructure investment decisions to be prioritised on the basis of their contribution to inclusive net zero carbon economy outcomes would be applied to the capital programme as a whole.
- Note that the Draft IIP (and programme of investment) is not consistent with, or fails to fulfill the recommendations of the Infrastructure Commission and/or that it will not sufficiently tackle the climate change and biodiversity crises or contribute to decarbonisation.
Impact of, and Response to, COVID-19
8.3 There is wide reference to the short to longer-term economic and social implications of COVID-19. It is acknowledged that this is a fluid and evolving situation, and that it may influence short-term actions to support resilience and recovery as well as having an eye to the medium to longer-term future. A clear message is that investment in infrastructure would be a vital part of helping the economy recover and "build back better" from the impact of COVID-19.
8.4 There are various comments that emphasis the value of local assets and public and green spaces to communities, and that connecting with nature and heritage has been vital for maintaining personal mental and physical well-being. There is wider commentary on the disruption to the way we travel (i.e. more walking and cycling) and the extent to which this can be sustained (i.e. it is noted that motorised traffic has been increasing back to pre-Covid levels as people avoid public transport).
8.5 Aligned to this are comments that recognise places with weaker social infrastructure have been less resilient to the negative changes brought about by the pandemic. Continued investment in infrastructure, such as community and cultural spaces and accessible greenspace, is considered essential in terms of building stronger social capital.
8.6 Digital infrastructure is considered important here too – key enabler for the economy to function effectively as well as supporting remote working as part of the new normal. Consultation respondents note that the digital world is continuing to change, including how people work and interact - reliance on digital infrastructure has never been greater. It is suggested that access to superfast broadband should be viewed as a basic need with equal access regardless of geography, as well as the importance of the rapid rollout and adoption of full fibre and 5G infrastructure.
Job Creation and Investment in Skills and Training
8.7 Skills and training opportunities and the creation of new jobs in urban and rural areas (including within deprived areas) are considered to be a key component of facilitating Scotland's journey to Net Zero and supporting a green recovery. There are considered to be significant opportunities to maximise local economic benefits and develop the capacity to deliver the infrastructure that is needed.
8.8 To support delivery of the Draft IIP, there is considered to be a corresponding need to invest in skills development to enable the effective maintenance, repair and/or upgrading of traditional buildings and the built environment. This is said to include upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce, and ensuring a strong pipeline of individuals with the right mix of skills to secure employment and progress in low and zero-carbon infrastructure related roles.
8.9 It is considered important to address the known skills shortages across the construction sectors, particularly in relation to traditional building techniques. For example, consultation respondents identify an on-going requirement for stonemasonry and roofing skills for historic buildings; skills shortages in traditional joinery, lime plastering, conservation architects and surveyors; appropriately identifying and installing energy efficiency methods in traditional buildings; and heritage, craft and conservation skills.
8.10 It is further noted that there could be continued commitment to ensure infrastructure projects support local economies and support the development of future skills, in particular close alignment with key skills plans from both a supply and demand perspective (e.g. Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan, Skills Investment Plan for Scotland's Historic Environment Sector).
8.11 Further, given the point noted above regarding the changing digital world, wider feedback is that people need to be supported to develop the appropriate skills (as well as connectivity and devices) required to fully participate in a digital nation. Alongside this, is an identified need to grow and train the telecoms infrastructure workforce.
Current Tax System
8.12 A wider point raised is that any plan that promotes maintenance over new build will be affected by the current tax system in Scotland which incentivises new build over the retention, reuse and adaptation of existing infrastructure.
8.13 It is noted that the 20% tax rate imposed on these works through the UK VAT system presents an imbalance in comparison to VAT liability for new build – currently applied at 5%. There is reference to continuing efforts to advocate for a review of the tax system to provide parity for the use and adaptation of existing buildings, and to help unlock the wider benefits around reuse, retrofit and adaptation (e.g. social and economic benefits and resource efficiency).
8.14 A wider suggestion is that the Scottish Government could explore the introduction of new financial incentives around maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure assets that support climate action - and the promotion of any existing incentives in this area.