Getting infrastructure on road is key to recovery – business chiefs

CBI leader hits out at government for 'too much talk and not enough action'
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The Independent Online

Business leaders have urged the government to "get on with it" over improvements to the UK's infrastructure, including the highly controversial third runway at Heathrow, in order to salvage the economy.

Only 35 per cent of companies believe the coalition's policies will boost investment in infrastructure, according to a report by the CBI and KPMG.

John Cridland, the head of the CBI, said there was too much talk and not enough action from the government.

"There are lots of new announcements but business people do not think this is leading to any change on the ground," said Mr Cridland, pictured. Nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of the 568 companies surveyed said the UK's infrastructure is less favourable than elsewhere in the European Union, and more than two-fifths (43 per cent) claimed it is worse than in other developed economies outside the EU.

Many businesses equated the quality of the UK's infrastructure to barely above that of an emerging-market economy.

Richard Threlfall, a partner at KPMG, said: "Confidence in our infrastructure is ebbing away. Last year, 43 per cent [of businesses surveyed] thought the coalition would be able to deal with this, now that is down to 35 per cent."

However, there was some good news for the government, with its £40bn UK Guarantees scheme – unveiled in July to underwrite infrastructure projects – given a cautious thumbs-up as 60 per cent of respondents to the survey said it will help get diggers on the ground.

Mr Cridland said businesses had placed a shopping list of urgent infrastructure improvements in front of ministers, centring on the road network.

"We would like to see some projects of national importance super-fasttracked through the planning and funding processes," he said, adding that road improvements could be paid for by tolls. "I have long said we need a plan A-plus, and I can't see a more effective way of doing this than investing in infrastructure," he said. "It's a crucial part of the growth narrative. The emphatic message from business is get on with it".

The third runway at Heathrow remains at the front of UK plc's mind: "Aviation is a lagging indicator – we know it is politically difficult but they need to get on with that too," Mr Cridland said.

Businesses ambitions for busier skies over the UK don't stop at Heathrow: "In the medium term, all London's airports need one extra runway," he added.

Mr Threfall said that the delay caused by the government asking Sir Howard Davies to carry out a review of airport capacity would only hamper other necessary improvements to Britain's infrastructure.

"Without knowing where we are with the hub airport, we won't know where to connect the roads and train networks," he added.