NIC calls for statutory resilience framework

28/05/2020
Dominic Browne

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has called for a new statutory resilience framework, maintained and observed by regulators and contractors with new powers and responsibilities.

In a new report, it calls on Government to introduce a statutory requirement by 2022 for secretaries of state to publish 'clear, proportionate and realistic standards every five years for the resilience of energy, water, digital, road and rail services'.

In the road sector, it highlights that Highways England uses a journey reliability indicator as part of its performance measures, however, 'there is no specified target'.

'Without a target, measuring progress is not transparent and it is difficult to evaluate whether journeys are as reliable as expected.'

This is largely true, although Highways England does have KPIs that cover this area including making sure on 'average delay' the performance is 'no worse at the end of RP2 than it was at the end of RP1' and that it must achieve 97.5% lane availability in 2020-21.

Highways England is working on 'a new expanded metric with a target based on baselining work undertaken during 2020-21' and in partnership with Transport Focus investigating new metrics for journey time reliability.

The NIC also says that by 2023, following a national assessment of operators and their markets, regulators should be given new powers to enforce the standards.

By 2024, regulators should require a system of regular stress testing for energy, water, digital, road and rail infrastructure operators, which they would be obliged to participate in and forced to take remedial action if they failed.

Energy, water, digital, road and rail infrastructure operators should also be obliged by the regulators to produce long-term strategies to ensure infrastructure services can continue to meet resilience standards (where there is no current requirement).

The report identifies six key aspects of resilience: anticipate, resist, absorb, recover, adapt and transform, and suggests the framework would help improve the approach to each of these.

Overall aims include delivering a framework that better anticipates future shocks and stresses by facing up to uncomfortable truths, values resilience properly, and drives adaptation before it is too late.

Taking a more 'Black Swan' approach to accounting for the impact of extreme events, the Commission warns that the UK’s resilience may be challenged in future by a range of factors that will not always be possible to foresee, alongside better understood challenges like climate change.

The evidence base used in the study was undertaken before the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the report notes that it is too early to fully assess and learn lessons from the ongoing crisis.

However, Sir John Armitt, chair of the commission, suggested the study could 'inform thinking about the recovery and help ensure that we can be resilient to future challenges'.

'The Commission pays tribute to all those who are helping to minimise the impact to infrastructure during this period, often at significant personal risk,' he said.

'To safeguard the systems our communities rely on, everyone involved in running infrastructure needs to anticipate and prepare for potential future challenges. The framework proposed in our report offers the tools to face uncomfortable truths, value resilience properly, test for vulnerabilities and drive adaptation before it is too late.'

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