Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI), reflects on its first in-person event of the year.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure (APPGI) has met in person.
No virtual event this time, but a reception at One Great George Street. It felt good.
Good to see people again, good not only to discuss our subject but good to have the side conversations that are so difficult online yet so valuable and enjoyable. It felt like a corner has been turned.
A year of acceleration
Our topic of discussion was 'the year ahead for infrastructure'.
The UK Chancellor, Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, and chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt, were our speakers. What a good way to restart our physical meetings!
Rishi spoke about the scale of government commitment to investment. Indeed, his being there in the middle of a week of tumultuous and deeply worrying international events showed significant commitment and desire to engage with the sector.
Sir John was insightful and challenging, his key message being the year ahead must be one of acceleration.
He posed the question on whether there's public confidence in the resilience of our infrastructure, and how the storm-driven power outages and flooding of the first weeks of this year had raised doubts.
I agree with Sir John that there are changing public concerns and expectations.
Sir John mentioned the water industry, as the work for shaping the next control period, when the price of water will be reviewed, is taking place right now.
My colleagues will be acutely aware of this, as we all received huge volumes of correspondence from constituents during the passage of the Environment Bill.
The message was consistent too: hurry up solving the problem of foul water entering the waterways through storm overflows.
The problem of playing catch up
That problem and so many others reflect an issue I have commented upon many times previously, so apologies for repetition.
The UK’s been underinvesting in infrastructure over many years, under governments of all colours, and we now find ourselves playing catch up. And we are doing this in a tough period.
Not tough because of the current Ukraine crisis, horrifying though it is, but we have had two supposedly once in a hundred-year events just 12 years apart. They have hit our finances hard, public and private.
It was clear from Rishi’s comments, and conversations around Parliament, that the government sees infrastructure investment as a critical ingredient in the policy responses to climate change, levelling up, and economic recovery from the pandemic.
That is good news for the sector and for those who have making that case, but it does lead to Sir John’s previous point. We need to move at pace – the year ahead must be one of acceleration.
A focus on delivery
It was also clear that the decisions taken in the current Parliament are of great consequence, and will shape many years to come.
The list of problems to solve is formidable, but it's not like at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, where we had to invent the vaccine.
We now have the vaccine, we just have to deploy it. That sounds a bit glib when we all know that delivery is not that easy, but it is clearly the easier problem to have.
The APPGI will be looking at delivery though this year, and that means both considering how it can be improved and also seeing projects in construction with a programme of visits.
Colleague interest in the group is growing in both Houses as they see infrastructure’s role in improving their constituencies.
I hope to see more people at our future events, as we build on a successful and upbeat reception.
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