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The perils of infrastructure and déjà vu

While speaking to business (or as we like to call him at CN, construction) minister Mark Prisk this week I had a strong sense of déjà vu.

And no, this isn’t going to be an article bashing the government for repeating its claims to be the greenest government ever or bringing up the same schemes in the budget as the previous autumn statement or anything along those lines.

The déjà vu was actually when Mr Prisk hailed his Prime Minister for the faith he was putting in ministers to carry out their work (long-term) rather than chopping and changing.

(The question had been did he believe it was now time for a dedicated construction/infrastructure minister, but that’s beside the point.)

Mr Prisk said: “We shouldn’t ignore the fact that the current Prime Minister has given most of us as ministers a much longer time when I was in opposition. In the 2005 -2010 Parliament I faced eight changes of ministers in four and a half years.

“I’ve been given an opportunity where I’m in month 20 now which is important because you get some drive, continuity and longer–term thinking. I’m not looking to make policy on a very short-term basis because this industry is thinking on a longer-term.”

So at the time I thought, why am I getting this feeling of déjà vu? And then I realised it wasn’t to do with Mark Prisk hailing a fellow Cabinet colleague (as politicians are want to do). It was because I’d heard something along these lines from… David Cameron, just two days earlier at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

It was something along the lines of their having been ‘more transport ministers than miles of new roads’ in the last government.

But when I read through his speech online, I can’t see any mention of the comment which elicited a hearty chuckle at the time.

No matter. It may have been off the cuff.

But the déjà-vu I sensed was still niggling at me. And then I remembered. The previous week I had seen Boris Johnson at a Crossrail launch.

There had been several ‘I can’t name names, but one former transport minister’ nods and winks to the crowd. Another clear nod to the changes within the last government and the commitment needed long-term to projects such as Crossrail/HS2/roads (delete where appropriate).

So we’ve seen an increasing pledge from the government about what it wants to do to boost infrastructure in the UK. And the announcements days, nay hours, after the budget about investment from GlaxoSmithKline and Gamesa were ‘fortunate’ in terms of timing to say the least.

But there are also subtle reminders creeping in that, lest we forget, these things take time. Continuity, as well as patience, is a virtue.

The message seems to be, if you’re frustrated over short term work, stick with us, because change, rather than familiarity, breeds contempt.

But the message from industry will always be, no matter what government is in place, ‘show us the money’.

tom.fitzpatrick@emap.com

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