Bizarrely, Danny Alexander began his big launch by announcing that “infrastructure” is “a long word” that “doesn’t necessarily mean a lot to a lot of people”. He then read out a dictionary definition, like a fifth former stumped for a way to start an essay. It might have been better to translate the jargon littering today’s euphoric event.
Not only was “the plan” repeatedly hailed for its “pipeline visibility” but “we have a massive execution responsibility”, said Lord Deighton, chief Treasury progress chaser. This sounded ominously like a draconian new method – perhaps imposed by would-be Chinese investors – for dealing with slacking labourers building HS2. Which was itself a “cross-cutting” “engine for regeneration”, a potential “infrastructure catapult”.
Alexander omitted to say that the Government’s new plan to build and sell homes was dramatic proof of market failure. Asked how George Osborne viewed it on a scale of one to 10, he said the Chancellor had approved a review – “two” in other words. Alexander said this approach had been tried in “other countries.” “Yeah, right,” you could imagine Osborne saying, “Cuba? Venezuela?”
But Osborne may have no choice. Deighton announced another market intervention – forcing government contractors to hire apprentices or “incentivising a step-change” in investment in skills as he put it. This is a shameless lift from Labour. So, was this all “electioneering”, one contractor asked. “If electioneering is trying to do a good job, then I’m all for it,” Deighton said, adding that Alexander’s infrastructure committee – “cross-cutting”, of course – was “hungering after opportunities to remove obstacles to driving the projects through”. One could imagine gangs of Treasury officials excavating railway cuttings with bare hands. Lord D will go far, at least in any government of which Alexander is a part.
A puzzled businessman asked how much “new money” was involved. Of course there’s no new money! The projects have been announced and re-announced so often that it’s hard to work out whether there’s even old money. Or, after Osborne’s Autmun Statement, any money at all.
But maybe that’s unduly cynical. After all, Alexander said that only a “smallish” amount – “several tens of billions” or “about a third to a quarter” of the necessary savings – must be cut in the next parliament. Never mind that the Institute of Fiscal Studies says it’s more than half. What’s a few “tens of billions” between friends?Reuse content