About half of U.K. infrastructure organization executives expect their sector to return to pre-pandemic levels by the fourth quarter of next year, according to a new survey. But after COVID 19, 56% of senior decision makers see the U.K.’s final separation from the European Union this December as the next significant challenge, followed by achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

The report by the Atkins unit of SNC Lavalin portrays a largely resilient industry, based on data from interviews with 398 executives in companies working in the infrastructure sector. Two thirds were asset owners while contractors and design firms accounted for about 20% each.

Private sector respondents were generally more optimistic, with two thirds expecting recovery by the end of next year. Only 40% in public sector shared that optimism. On average, respondents reported that 16% of work in hand before the pandemic was shelved or cancelled, while private sector firms reported a 15% revenue drop.

Companies working in the utility sector reported the worst pandemic impact on work, yet they expected to be the quickest to recover. The transportation sector was also hit hard and confidence is significantly lower than before the pandemic, partly because recovery is more dependent on social distancing than in other sectors. Executives in the real estate sector forecast the slowest recovery of all.

Looking to the future, 95% of respondents saw digital innovation as increasingly important. And more than 90% expected more home working and factoring in pandemics in future risk planning.

 Digital innovation “represents an incredible opportunity for our industry to help shape the U.K.’s recovery by harnessing data, (artificial intelligence) and digital twins to give us greater certainty when delivering projects,” says Richard Robinson, Atkins’s CEO for the U.K. and Europe.

As the government aims to accelerate infrastructure development, “I hope it will consider embracing a procurement model that actively incentivizes the use of the latest digital tools and…puts the industry on the path to a more productive, innovative future.”