An interview with James Stewart

An interview with James Stewart, chairman of KPMG's Global Infrastructure practice 

Earlier this year, James Stewart, OBE, joined KPMG's Global Infrastructure Practice. Most people know James as the 'face of UK infrastructure' having served as the Chief Executive of Infrastructure UK where he led the delivery of the UK's National Infrastructure Plan and before that CEO of Partnerships UK. We caught up with James to talk about his experience and what he has learned since joining KPMG.

Editor: Looking back on your fifteen years leading UK infrastructure, what were some of the lessons that you learned?

James: I think the most valuable lessons for me related to the power of the PPP model for infrastructure delivery. At the beginning, the UK was really pioneering the PPP model and - obviously - we had to learn from our mistakes as we went along. One of the great consequential benefits of the PPP program was the ability to build capacity in the local market by providing a reliable and predictable pipeline of projects with a trusted procurement approach which, in turn, enticed a lot of the bigger players into the market

We also found that PPP models are not the answer to every infrastructure project. Some of the really large deals are ultimately much too complicated and carry too much risk for private companies. But if used at the right time and the right place, PPPs can be very successful. In the UK, we built a massive amount of infrastructure - on time and at budget - that really would not have been there without the PPP program.

Editor: You have visited a significant number of countries since joining KPMG in April. What are some of the common infrastructure themes that you are seeing emerge around the world?

James: One of the biggest trends recently has been the need for increased government intervention in the markets. The global financial crisis reduced private sector risk appetites and overall liquidity in the markets. If governments want to achieve an aggressive infrastructure investment plan, they are going to need to intervene more to make that appealing to investors. There is a big opportunity for KPMG to help governments structure the optimum support package.

It's also clear that some of the developing countries, particularly in Asia, are investing much higher proportions of GDP towards infrastructure development. In part, this is a drive to bring essential services to people for the first time, but it is also because of huge population growth which will drive up demand for services exponentially.

Editor: Have there been any big surprises so far?

James: There seems to be a new surprise every day, but some of the statistics for population growth and urbanization are truly mindboggling. For example, the Asia Development Bank thinks that in the next twenty years more than 1.1 billion people will move into cities in Asia Pacific alone. That's about 137,000 people moving into cities every day. Clearly, that is going to create significant infrastructure challenges very quickly.

Editor: What are you enjoying most about the new job?

James: I've had a number of opportunities already to sit down with clients around the world and explore their infrastructure challenges. What is great about KPMG is the ability to combine global expertise with local skills and experience. This has really allowed me to hit the ground running.

For me, being able to spend my days focused on solving massive infrastructure challenges in different locations is a wonderful and privileged experience, and I look forward to meeting more of our infrastructure clients around the world over the next few months.

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