Why can’t the UK do government-led projects?

Our anonymous blogger casts his (or her) eye over the day-to-day issues that face engineers in the office and on the shop floor, where she (or he) plies his (or her) trade

As one flicks through copies of The Engineer, the general dearth of large, successful government-led projects is notable. This is a shame. Not only do such projects help the man on the Clapham bendy-bus understand what we poor, maligned souls who call ourselves engineers do, but they also raise the profile of our beleaguered profession. This in turn brings far-reaching benefits.

There are potentially iconic projects about, but these appear to be either of questionable validity or prone to vacillation, almost inevitably leading to emaciation or cancellation.

I need only mention High Speed 2 (HS2) or the incoherent multitude of power-generating technologies to hear vast swathes of The Engineer’s readership gnashing their teeth and furiously scribbling pamphlets calling for the disbanding of the government, or the opposition… or both. Would it be too simplistic to suggest that there are no statesmen or experts in the Mother of Parliaments anymore? Merely professional politicians with neither vision nor commitment?

Perhaps the fault lies in the potential of only having a short-term tenure rent free at Number 10? When you are trying to balance the books to a sufficient point that you at least have a chance of extending your stay, and only have the prospect of seeing your rival taking the plaudits as your grand scheme comes to fruition if you fail, what incentive is there to be bold in these matters?

Perhaps the fault lies in only having a short term tenure rent free at Number 10?

Equally, inherited projects seem to be modified or cancelled by new incoming governments who are keen to be seen as clearing the decks (apparently of aircraft as much as anything else going by the fate of our new carriers) or as stamping their own personal vision on the country.

Of course, we engineers are above such sordid trifles – or are we? There are those within our community (the vast majority, by the response to The Engineer’s articles) who decry HS2 as just being about shaving a few minutes off one particular journey. Some of those among us even seek to question the engineering icon that is Concorde, having the gall to point out that they had to be given away once built.

Yet all of these projects must have an engineering input at the start and an engineering input before they are changed or culled. Are our brothers and sisters involved weak willed and easily led or do they too fall prey to blinkered vision and personal agendas? Perhaps engineers and politicians aren’t so different after all.