Vital infrastructure must be ready for the future

The National Infrastructure Commission has stressed that proactive steps are needed to ensure the UK’s infrastructure can remain resilient.

The commission’s new report, Anticipate, React, Recover: Resilient infrastructure systems, sets out a new framework to help support change across infrastructure sectors and is calling for transparent standards of appropriate service levels, stress testing for major incidents and clearer direction for utilities providers to invest in long term resilience. Together, the report finds, these steps will ensure the country’s infrastructure can better resist, absorb and recover from shocks.

The commission warns that the UK’s generally robust historic 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. To prepare better, the government should set clear resilience standards for infrastructure operators, and introduce stress tests overseen by regulators similar to those employed in the financial sector. Operators should also be required to develop and maintain long term resilience strategies, and regulators should ensure their determinations support achieving the prescribed resilience standards.

The framework sets out six key aspects of resilience: anticipate, resist, absorb, recover, adapt and transform, which the commission will also use in its own future analysis of resilience strategies.

Sir John Armitt, chair of the commission, said: “The commission pays tribute to all those who are helping to minimise the impact to infrastructure during this period, often at significant personal risk. While this report draws on evidence collected before the pandemic, this study can inform thinking about the recovery and help ensure that we can be resilient to future challenges.

“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.”