National Infrastructure Commission chief on joining during lockdown: ‘I look forward to being able to hold an all staff meeting in person’

2020 was a year unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the work of government and changing how we live our daily lives. Senior figures from across the civil service tell us how the unprecedented 12 months affected them, and look ahead to 2021
Work analysing rail schemes in the North and Midlands was a 2020 highlight for James Heath. Photo: PA

By Civil Service World

11 Jan 2021

James Heath National Infrastructure Commission’s Chief ExecutiveJames Heath is the National Infrastructure Commission’s chief executive

What are you proudest of the NIC achieving in 2020?

First, government’s publication in November of a National Infrastructure Strategy firmly based on our independent recommendations was a major milestone for the commission, placing us at the heart of longer term policy making. Second, our work analysing rail schemes in the North and Midlands has been arguably the most complex study the Commission has undertaken since we were established. We published this just before Christmas to inform government’s integrated rail plan to help change the economic geography of the UK in the years ahead. Internally, I am proud that we published the commission’s first diversity and inclusion strategy, which sets out both how we will create a diverse, inclusive workplace representative of the public we serve – and help ensure that the UK’s infrastructure strategy reflects the needs of the entire population.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?

Joining a new organisation as its professional leader during the first national lock down and trying to understand the culture, build relationships with colleagues, and create new networks – all via virtual technologies that are not designed to do any of this. While everyone has adapted incredibly well, I must confess to looking forward to being able to hold an all staff meeting in person.

What are the main challenges facing the NIC in the coming year?

We will be commencing work on the next National Infrastructure Assessment – our biggest ‘set piece’ report, delivered once every Parliament. It’s a major project which aims to identify long term infrastructure challenges and solutions, and builds consensus among stakeholders as we go. Again, starting this work without the benefit of physical meetings will require creative solutions but we’re committed to engaging widely to create the fullest picture of where government policy needs to head to address the UK’s needs in 2050 and beyond.

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