When CN asked the prime minister for his thoughts on Labour’s proposed independent infrastructure commission last year, he wasn’t exactly fulsome in his praise.
“It would be more important were it not for the fact that we now have a national infrastructure plan that sets out a multiyear program of all the infrastructure we want to see built”, he said.
But while Labour has been on the front pages electing a new leader, the Conservatives have nicked a policy and Tony Blair’s former policy chief to put daylight between the ruling party and opposition when it comes to infrastructure planning.
This is a policy that not only makes sense, but leaves some wondering whether Labour has a cohesive policy in this area anymore.
The appointment of Andrew Adonis (who calls himself the ‘interim chair’ on his twitter feed) to lead the National Infrastructure Commission is a coup. Sir John Armitt, who was appointed by Ed Balls to author Labour’s commission policy ahead of the last election, has already told CN he is the right man for the job.
Were the Tories genuinely wanting to put the infrastructure needs of the UK ahead of political point scoring, they would have backed Labour’s proposals, or a version of them, before the election.
What stopped them was not only political point scoring but also the thorny issue of projects like the third runway at Heathrow. George Osborne today confirmed a decision on Heathrow would definitely be taken before Christmas.
The aviation debacle is a reminder though that a commission that makes recommendations, rather than decisions, is not something to be celebrated.
It will be interesting to see whether this infrastructure commission has genuine decision-making power, or even influence. If not, then it’s as good as appointing a Davies Commission to investigate every major project in the land.
The NIC, we’re told, will initially focus on connectivity between Northern cities, London’s public transport infrastructure and energy infrastructure.
Which means that if, as expected, EDF confirms its final investment decision for Hinkley Point C and Crossrail 2 gets continued backing in the Comprehensive Spending Review next month, it will already have two quick wins on which to build.
The chancellor also announced that 89 local authority pension funds will be merged into half a dozen ‘British Wealth Funds’, though he has form when it comes to pension fund rhetoric, so let’s wait and see.
The NIC will “provide an assessment of the UK’s infrastructure needs every 5 years, looking 30 years ahead”.
All of this is good news for the UK industry. Lest we forget, the World Economic Forum ranks the UK tenth for the quality of its infrastructure behind the likes of Spain (9th), Switzerland (6th) and Hong Kong (1st) and 30th for roads, behind Puerto Rico.
If set up properly, the NIC could help to put the UK’s infrastructure back into the higher echelons.
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Morgan Sindall has hired senior ex-GB Building Solutions and Shepherd Construction staff as it looks to form its own Northern Powerhouse.
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