General Election: Labour makes early running with bold infrastructure plan

24/05/2024
Chris Ames and Dominic Browne

Early shots have been fired in the general election announced by prime minister Rishi Sunak for 4 July, with Labour setting out initial plans for a radical shake-up of infrastructure delivery. 

This week, Darren Jones, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, told the Financial Times he plans to merge the existing Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to create an organisation 'at the heart of government'.

He said: ‘The problem we are trying to fix is Britain can’t really build anything anymore. Investors look at the UK and don’t believe we’re going to build the things we say we’re going to build.

The NIC is the Government’s official advisory body on infrastructure. It warned last week that the window for efforts to bring UK infrastructure up to levels needed for economic growth was closing.

The FT reported that the proposed new body, to be called National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority, would stipulate from the outset how projects are planned, designed and costed.

Mr Jones said that no money would be released for a scheme unless it had clearly met the body’s guidance.

Speaking at Traffex this week, Labour’s shadow roads minister, Bill Esterson, told Highways that while he was keen to see increased spending on local road maintenance, ‘we will only make commitments to spend money where we can identify where the money is going to come from - that applies to revenue spending and it applies to investment spending as well'.

He added: ‘Fundamentally, it is going to be the private sector that does the lion’s share of that investment, in new projects, and in capital more widely.’

Mr Esterson said he had been told by a key City figure that ‘the investment community is awash with money to invest in projects provided there is economic stability and the government wants to work with private sector. Well that is the offer from Labour and I hope that the investment community will take us up in that offer.’

Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis, said: ‘Arcadis, like any business, favours certainty and this is as true of our clients and market sectors as it is of us; so an early election, avoiding months of politicking and increasingly little governing, is welcome.

‘Arcadis, like any prudent business, will work constructively with whoever is in Government on 5 July. We are, however, clear on what we would like to see that Government focus on. The first priority is to enable investment that will drive sustained growth. This means picking winning global market sectors where the UK can compete and win against the rest of the world and really getting behind them.’

The Conservative Government made a pitch to drivers over the last year, with the offer of billions that would have been spent on HS2 being diverted towards local roads and transport under the Network North plan and the Plan for Drivers. 

Mr Sunak faces an uphill battle in the election according to the polls, though he has argued that recent economic data suggests the Government's plan is working.

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