UK infrastructure and the Queen's Speech

The Queen’s Speech set out the Government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead. As ICE’s Director General, I want to take a closer look at the bills relevant to the infrastructure sector and what good should look like at the end of the next administration.

State opening of Parliament
State opening of Parliament

The most significant Bill for the industry is the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill.  This intends to give greater powers to cities over issues such as local transport and housing.

But why is this Bill so important for our industry?

It changes the political landscape. There will be a new layer of local decision-makers at a sub-national level, who will have greater control over local infrastructure. With proactive engagement from industry they can make more informed decisions on the infrastructure needed to create growth and productivity in their local communities.

I welcome the devolution agenda. Scotland and London have already demonstrated that devolving powers to those directly affected leads to greater investment and better decision making.

However, as set out in ICE’s Transport for Growth report, devolution is not a ‘one-size fits all’ model. Devolution must be guided by the needs and capacity of each region.

It is not just the Bill itself that is welcome. The legislation comes hand in hand with a new Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, James Wharton MP, who is expected to take the new Bill through parliament. The appointment of Jim O’Neill as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury creates a team which will deliver a bill with infrastructure at its heart.

Other Bills outlined in the Queen’s Speech which will impact UK infrastructure include:

  • The Housing and Planning Bill: should herald a new generation of house building which will require infrastructure to support regeneration and development.
  • Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill: will require ministers to report annually on meeting the Government’s target of creating £3 million new apprenticeships over the next five years.  
  • The Wales Bill: new powers to be transferred to the Welsh Government and National Assembly, devolving power across areas such as energy, new controls over fracking, transport, the environment and speed limits.
  • The Scotland Bill: new powers on Scottish devolution based on the cross party Smith Commission agreement. The powers granted would include the ability to set income tax rate bands, increased borrowing powers and additional powers relating to onshore oil and gas extraction and air passenger duty.

The Government also gave a commitment to continue to legislate for high-speed rail links between different parts of the country.

Of course we don’t need legislation to progress all infrastructure policy.

Alongside devolution of infrastructure responsibilities, I would like to see:

  • A long-term decision making framework for infrastructure.
  • Improved infrastructure delivery capacity and capability in both the public and private sectors.
  • Network performance metrics.

Each of these, delivered as a package of measures, will ensure greater investor confidence in the UK and help attract much needed private investment from across the world.

So my message to Government is this: Be bold. Be ambitious. Use your levers of power to encourage investment in our nation’s infrastructure – at a national and local level. In doing so you will help spur economic growth and deliver projects that will transform peoples’ lives.