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Lord Adonis: 'Political will is evaporating for new projects'

Creating a government ministry dedicated to infrastructure is not needed as much as the ‘political will’ to back major projects, the ex-head of the National Infrastructure Commission has said.

Former Labour transport minister Lord Adonis told Construction News that funding is “evaporating” for major new infrastructure.

His comments followed reports last week that some members of cabinet are pushing to merge several departments and replace them with a single ministry for infrastructure.

The ministry would be formed from the departments for Transport, Business and Culture, it was reported.

But Lord Adonis told CN: “Whitehall musical chairs won’t make a jot of difference to the actual planning and delivery of infrastructure.

“What’s needed is funding and political will, and both are evaporating rapidly for major new infrastructure.”

With PFI scrapped by the government, ministers are said to be “exploring all sorts of […] new ideas” to find funding for infrastructure projects.

Junior health minister Stephen Hammond, who is not a cabinet member, called for the creation of an infrastructure ministry in 2015.

Mr Hammond claims the establishment of a new ministry would be likely to ensure infrastructure was better planned and delivered.

“I believe there still exists a silo mentality, which needs to be overcome if we are to deliver projects and also many of these projects need a political champion at cabinet level”, he said.

In a report by the Association of Consultancy and Engineering, Mr Hammond wrote that such a department could help deliver large-scale strategic infrastructure more effectively.

He wrote that a new ministry, “could provide the rigorous analysis that restores confidence to government pronouncements on infrastructure needs”.

Mr Hammond said in the report that the proposed department would devise a strategy and implement policies, “that would demonstrably follow from a strong position that would also engender greater cross-party consensus”.

But Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner also said the move might lead to a loss of focus from the government, and such an idea had echoes of unsuccessful departmental mergers from the early 2000s.

“The prospect of infrastructure moving away from HM Treasury and Cabinet Office into a single mega-department would also risk a reduction in focus as it moves away from the centre of government,” Mr Reisner said.

“At a time when effective infrastructure policy will be vital to the country’s post-Brexit future, this is an unattractive prospect.”

The Sun reported that the proposed super ministry concept is opposed by the prime minister and so would not come about until her successor is in post.

A Treasury spokesman said: “There are no plans to merge these departments.”

The spokesman added, “investment will reach the highest sustained levels in over 40 years, with a massive £600bn being put into our roads, hospitals and schools over the next decade.

“This includes the largest strategic roads package ever and £37bn of government funding for housing, research and infrastructure through the National Productivity Investment Fund.”

 Issues over costs for CrossrailCrossrail 2 and HS2 have also all been raised in recent weeks.

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