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Exclusive: Construction minister Michael Fallon slams infrastructure secretary 'superpost' role

The construction minister has rejected calls to create an infrastructure secretary role at cabinet level, insisting the move would be “confusing”.

Michael Fallon told Construction News that ministers from all departments had to be responsible for major projects in the UK, and a departmental change would not improve this.

He said: “I don’t think you need to tinker with the Whitehall furniture to do any more there, I think we’ve got to use the structure we have.”

The minister pointed to commercial secretary to the Treasury, Lord Deighton, and said he was helping to drive through some of the UK’s major projects.

Lord Deighton is often referred to as the infrastructure minister and chairs the HS2 Growth Taskforce.

“I don’t think you need to tinker with the Whitehall furniture… I think we’ve got to use the structure we have”

Michael Fallon, construction minister

Mr Fallon has ministerial responsibility for energy, business and the city of Portsmouth as well as sitting on the Construction Leadership Board and co-chairing the Green Construction Board – the latter of which is meeting next week.

The GCB will focus on its recently launched Infrastructure Carbon Review and look at its priorities over the next two years, the minister added.       

Construction Adviser Role

Mr Fallon declined to confirm whether the government’s construction adviser Peter Hansford would continue in his role, after his two-year term comes to an end.

Mr Hansford was appointed to the role in July 2012, taking over from former construction adviser Paul Morrell, and is due to finish his initial tenure in November 2014.

The minister said it was “a bit too early to consider what will happen in November” but added that Mr Hansford was “doing great work”.

Mr Hansford led the industrial strategy for construction publication Construction 2025, which sought to improve fair payment for contractors working in the industry.

Long-Term Targets

Mr Fallon said the government had a long-term plan to deliver infrastructure through its National Infrastructure Plan, which he said “makes government much more like business”.

“We have these long-term targets and goals – but targets against which our progress can be measured,” he said.

“That means we keep going back to the plan and try to make sure we are staying on track.

“It also enables us to look across the piece, across a whole range of different sectors, to make sure our efforts aren’t simply confined to one area where there’s political interest rather than another – it makes us look across the board.”

The minister sympathised with frustration felt by firms over the slow pace of certain major projects in the UK.

He said it would be “lovely” if ministers were able to have absolute power but stressed the importance of democracy and local community support to deliver successful schemes.

“We have to make sure there’s a local by-in. Developers must ensure they abide by that, not ride roughshod over what local communities want,” he added.

“Developers have to engage and these things sometimes take longer than they would take in a country that isn’t as democratic.”

Amid campaigning, the minister was confident his party would maintain cross-party consensus in the run-up to the next general election.

“[The Labour party] overspent and projects had to be cancelled…we’ve got the public finances under control”

Michael Fallon, construction minister

Mr Fallon said he was encouraged to see a consensus behind the government’s energy market reforms from all three political parties.

He insisted there was political backing for nuclear power, with “no party political disputes” about the government’s other energy reforms, including contracts for difference and the capacity market mechanism.  

Labour and Infrastructure

However, the minister criticised the last Labour government’s infrastructure development, insisting the party “went bust”.

He said: “[The Labour party] overspent and projects had to be cancelled – that’s what happens if you don’t manage the public finances properly.

“We’ve got the public finances under control which allows us the space and freedom to plan ahead for these long-term projects that will help underpin growth in the end, like HS2 and new nuclear power stations.”

Mr Fallon said there was a “steady stream of investment” into energy projects and highlighted the eight renewable energy projects that received government backing last month, which are expected to bring up to £12bn worth of investment into the UK.

He added that the UK was also seeing growth in rail civils construction under the government’s five year plan, announced in March.

The minister agreed with Infrastructure UK chief executive Geoffrey Spence, who told Construction News that investors looking to benefit from public-private partnership deals should look to the energy markets.

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