Government answers critics with extra £66bn for infrastructure – but A14 toll plan in scrapped
After years of neglect, energy, road, rail, flood defence, communications and water infrastructure are in need of renewal
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Tuesday 03 December 2013
An extra £66bn will be ploughed into major building projects such as transport, energy and telecommunications, the Government will announce today.
The Treasury will answer criticism that progress on the ground is not matching the Government’s rhetoric by publishing a “national infrastructure plan” with 646 projects costing £375bn for the period to 2030.
A year ago, some £309bn of public and private funding was in the pipeline. The budget has been boosted by a pledge by six big insurance companies to invest £25bn into big projects in the next five years.
Today’s blueprint will include an agreement with Hitachi and Horizon for a new nuclear power station in Wylfa, North Wales; a £1bn guarantee for the extension of the London Underground’s Northern Line to Battersea; a £50m redevelopment of the railway station at Gatwick Airport; a £5m plan to convert public-sector car fleets to electric vehicles; and doubling to £20bn the sale of Government assets, including its shareholding in Eurostar.
Plans for toll charges on the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon will be scrapped after local objections, with the £1.5bn widening scheme expected to be funded by the Government.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Treasury Secretary, will tell business leaders in London today: “Underground, overground, on-shore, offshore, wired or wireless, tarmac or train track. You name it, we’re building it right now. This is great news for the people of the UK because after years of neglect, the UK’s energy, road, rail, flood defence, communications and water infrastructure need renewal. It will boost the UK economy creating jobs and making it easier to do business. It will also make the UK a better place to live for everyone who calls it their home.”
The Treasury insists that 291 of the 646 projects are already under construction. But it faces criticism after a survey showed that only a handful of the 40 top priority schemes it listed in 2011 have been completed and the Office for National Statistics said work on infrastructure dropped by 13 per cent last year.
Chris Leslie MP, the shadow Chief Treasury Secretary, said: “With the country facing a cost-of-living crisis we need to invest in infrastructure to create jobs, boost living standards, and strengthen our economy for the long-term. But for the last three-and-a-half years the Government’s record on infrastructure has been one of complete failure.”
He added: “Scheme after scheme has been announced to great fanfare but then little actually delivered. Yet another announcement from ministers about possible future investment will do little to reassure business that warm words will finally translate into diggers in the ground.”
Katja Hall, chief policy director at the Confederation of British Industry, said: “We’ve been calling for a more focused approach on infrastructure projects and look forward to seeing the fourth national infrastructure plan. As ever the devil will be in the detail on timelines and delivery.”
The Government’s record on capital spending was also called into question by town hall leaders. The Local Government Association (LGA) urged George Osborne to use his Autumn Statement tomorrow to lift the cap which prevents councils from borrowing to fund social housing, saying nine authorities have 40,000 households on waiting lists but cannot build.
Mike Jones, chairman of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board, said: “Councils could build up to 60,000 additional new homes over the next five years if the Treasury removed the housing borrowing cap.”
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