Skip to content
Infrastructure blog

Conservative Party Conference: building on past promises

09 October 2018

Members of the ICE policy and public affairs team have been at this year's conference in Birmingham to promote the work of the Institution to politicians and industry.

Conservative Party Conference: building on past promises
Theresa May. Image credit: Shutterstock.

While many articles have focussed on Boris Johnson's fresh criticisms of the Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit strategy, her dancing on stage, and her sustained attack on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour party, which she described as "a national tragedy", conference season this year produced little in the way of new announcements for the infrastructure sector.

ICE attended the conference to keep infrastructure high on the political agenda, and Director General Nick Baveystock was also able to engage with many frontbench ministers.  

One key issue on which the Conservatives and Labour had a difference of opinion was railway nationalisation.

Our railways are 'too disjointed'

The Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Andy McDonald stated in a fringe event that if Labour came to power, it would use its first Queen’s Speech to bring forward a “Railways Act”, which would create a new arms-length body to manage the public and private system until the network was fully nationalised.

However, Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, believed that the problem with the current system was that it was “too disjointed”.

In the Rail Interview fringe, he talked about how his recently announced railway review would seek to address this, which would include a team of experts working “hand-in glove” with his department.

Infrastructure investment

The Conservatives were also keen to highlight the amount of investment they were delivering across the country.

Grayling spoke of the Heathrow expansion and the construction of HS2, while Hammond spoke of the increased investment in the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, devolving more power to mayors.

Hammond committed £2m for the Midlands Engine Partnership, to maximise opportunities offered by HS2, and pledged several other measures to expand apprenticeships.

He also confirmed his department will be publishing a white paper on ‘delivering a rail revolution’ in 2019.

Meanwhile, we had an opportunity to present ICE's views on infrastructure investment, through discussions about the upcoming State of the Nation: Investment report and Project 13 at a roundtable with construction minister Richard Harrington.

Climate change action

We were also able to talk about ICE's views on inclusive cities at a roundtable discussion on how cities can support more inclusive growth. 

There was a big focus on urban transport at both conferences, with many fringe events highlighting what more could be done to reduce pollution and congestion.

This is more important than ever after yesterday’s IPCC report, which showed a need for urgent action on climate change.

Both parties recognised the need to promote more electric and autonomous vehicles to combat high levels of pollution in major cities.


Jeremy Corbyn in his speech outlined ambitious plans to achieve a 60% reduction in emissions by 2030, creating more than 400,000 skilled jobs.

The Conservative Party also announced a series of measures to allow firms more flexibility in how the apprenticeship levy should be spent.

Part of this is a promise of an extra £90m of government funding to enable employers to invest a quarter of their apprenticeship funds on people working for businesses in their supply chain.

The ICE’s Public Affairs team will be looking for more detail when it's published, to see what this will do for the construction and infrastructure sector.

New homes

On the issue of housing, despite the Labour slogan “rebuilding Britain for the many, not the few” unlike in 2017, Labour chose to stay away from housing in the leader’s speech this conference.

This is a stark difference to the Conservatives, who reaffirmed their promise of building 300,000 new homes a year.

Also announced was a New Homes Ombudsman—the watchdog will champion buyers, protect their interests and hold developers to account.

All in all, there wasn't a flurry of new announcements, but more an attempt to solidify old ones.

  • Amy Cox, public affairs manager at ICE