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Ministerial group to identify infrastructure 'blockages'

The government has set up a group of senior ministers from across government to identify potential “blockages” in UK infrastructure investment over the next few years.

The group is being chaired by cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin, who is responsible for co-ordinating government policy, and commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Sassoon.

It includes ministers from across government departments who have been invited to join because they are directly responsible for the delivery of infrastructure projects.

Lord Sassoon said it was “not hard wired into a cabinet committee” but described the group as “an important new working tool within government”.

“It’s identifying the pinch-points and how we are going to manage them.”

Commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Sassoon

“The first thing we want to get out of it is something government has not had before - that’s a plan that we can look at in a sensible way,” he said.

Its work will be shared between ministers so they “can start identifying where the blockages might be”. It will also feed in to the international talks to be carried out by trade minister and former HSBC chair Stephen Green, “making sure that we do talk to overseas investors about what’s coming along”.

The group met for the first time last week. The meeting was also attended by Infrastructure UK’s outgoing chief executive James Stewart and its chair Paul Skinner.

The government has promised infrastructure £200 billion for the next five years, 75 per cent of which needs to be financed by the private sector.

Speaking at a briefing organised by Balfour Beatty, Lord Sassoon said both the construction industry and the financiers needed a “much clearer view than the government has given them in the past”.

“It’s identifying the pinch-points on financing and how we are going to manage them or understanding we are placing unreasonable burdens and therefore cost pressures on the construction end of the system.”

He added: “It’s often government that the financial investors are looking to for some guidance as to what they should focus on… But also working with Balfour Beatty and others to make sure that we strengthen the construction chain and make the UK industry even more competitive than it has been.”

Balfour Beatty chief operating officer Andrew McNaughton said: “The concept of being able to forward plan is something that the industry has been calling for for many, many years.”

He said construction firms needed the information to be able to invest in the right parts of its businesses and train people in the right skills.

 

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