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If that was a mini budget, what is maxi?

30 September 2022

Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure, assesses the new UK government’s plans on infrastructure.

If that was a mini budget, what is maxi?
There’s a clear belief of the positive role that infrastructure can play, says Andrew Jones MP.

There’s much to comment on, of course.

But I’m not going to explore the two energy support packages or the overall growth plan other than to say that I’ve suggested to the government that, because so much has happened, it’d be helpful to bring them together into one place for reference.

Helpful for everyone, including parliamentarians who have clearly forgotten elements as there are plenty of colleagues calling for things that have already been announced.

Thinking about growth

In the new UK government’s Growth Plan (dubbed ‘mini budget’), reinforced by ministerial statement after statement, is the objective of growing our economy by 2.5%.

The plan recognises there’ll be many factors involved in accelerating growth, and that’s good.

I don’t think we’ve been thinking enough about growth, and the thinking that was done wasn’t good enough anyway.

From an infrastructure perspective, there are a number of things that jumped out at me, and I will spend a moment on each.

Defining infrastructure’s role

There’s a clear belief of the positive role that infrastructure can play.

Good to see it so upfront and central, but this isn’t news, nor something the APPGI could disagree with. We’ve been saying this for a while.

The definition of infrastructure was broader than expected.

Aside from the obvious transport sector, the continued emphasis on energy generation was inevitable and necessary.

The only surprise was more enthusiasm for onshore wind.

That isn’t generally popular with colleagues, though it clearly has some merits.

It’ll be interesting to see the parliamentary reaction.

We need more detail on how to deliver

The Growth Plan was heavy on project listings. Annex B listed projects across road, rail and especially energy.

Colleagues will have been pleased to see projects in their constituencies being moved forward, but there’s much more detail required.

It was absolutely clear that there’s a general view that the status quo in infrastructure delivery isn’t good enough.

Too slow and indeed getting slower. I agree with that analysis, it’s been a discussion point at our APPGI meetings too.

The question is: how will it be improved?

Happily, the APPGI has been working with the ICE on how to accelerate delivery of the Integrated Rail Plan.

Our findings will be published shortly at an event at the Houses of Parliament – shameless plug, look out for the invites.

I hope we’ll be able to help as the plan’s motive is right.

Safeguarding the environment

Colleagues will be happy to see a focus on delivery, but it isn’t delivery above all.

Delivery has to safeguard environmental protections.

Same level of outcomes, but a different process to reach them.

This process review should be viewed as an opportunity. It looks like we’re pushing at an open door.

Incentives for private investment

A theme in the Growth Plan which received some attention was increasing private sector investment. There are tax incentives to encourage this in order to boost economic activity and productivity.

I’m sure they’ll receive cross party support.

There aren’t - as of yet - mechanisms for getting more private investment into infrastructure.

Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) 1 and 2 are gone, but it doesn’t look like the work replacing them has reached anything approaching a conclusion.

Some interesting times ahead

Overall, the Growth Plan uses warm words like "vital" and "high quality" to describe infrastructure and its role, with a drive to accelerate delivery.

This sounds positive to me.

However, it’s not easy to actually make it happen, as the UK’s record proves, so I see interesting times ahead.

But, for a group believing in the beneficial impact of infrastructure and working on delivery improvement it must be positive to see agreement with that at the highest level.

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  • Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI)