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Infrastructure blog

5 key infrastructure takeaways from the 2022 Labour Party Conference

04 October 2022

Labour set out a clear direction of travel for the party’s policies on infrastructure at the annual conference.

5 key infrastructure takeaways from the 2022 Labour Party Conference
Keir Starmer. Image credit: Shutterstock

In his keynote speech at the party conference, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer set out an ambitious green policy agenda with the aim of making the UK a world leader in renewables and a ‘clean energy superpower’.

Here are the top takeaways for infrastructure.

1. Clean energy and energy security

A key announcement at the conference was the intention to create Great British Energy in the first year of a Labour government – a publicly-owned energy company to help drive an expansion in green energy.

This underlines just how much emphasis Labour is placing on green energy being central to its plans for growth.

Foreign ownership stakes in some of the UK’s most prized clean energy assets were criticised as of a short-term approach to energy security.

Labour therefore presented the Great British Energy company not only as vital to establishing the UK as a clean energy superpower, but also to guarantee its long-term energy security.

Keir Starmer has also pledged to decarbonise electricity by 2030 (5 years quicker than under the current government’s plan), and to speed up development in solar, offshore and onshore wind, tidal, and nuclear (including small modular reactors).

A heavy emphasis was placed upon “low-cost, homegrown zero carbon power”. This would also lead to a self-sufficient energy system by the end of the decade.

A new "green dimension" to Labour's foreign policy was also announced by Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy.

This would place the environment at the top of the international agenda by making the climate crisis a standing item on the agenda of the National Security Council.

There would also be a push for climate action to become a fourth pillar of the United Nations.

ICE’s position

Renewable energy is essential to delivering decarbonisation and a just net zero transition.

Looking forward and increasing investment into renewables, rather than backward toward fossil fuels, will also improve the UK’s long-term energy security.

By integrating green policies into foreign policy, the UK can also be an important global leader in reducing emissions and ensuring the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be met.

2. Levelling up

Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Lisa Nandy questioned the government’s ability to level up the country and its commitment to its own flagship levelling up policy.

Labour proved that it’s willing to park its tanks on the Conservatives’ lawn when it comes to levelling up.

Nandy highlighted Labour’s previous action to regenerate cities like Liverpool as symbolic of levelling up in action and outlined that economic growth could be delivered through investing in people.

The reinforcement of levelling up by multiple Shadow Ministers in speeches and at fringe events meant that the policy has now been employed more by Labour than in recent Conservative government announcements.

ICE’s position

The ICE has previously recommended the need for clearer alignment between levelling up and net zero.

In addition, where possible, the levelling up missions outlined in the government’s Levelling Up White Paper should be aligned with the UN SDGs.

This would ensure that existing evidence on measuring progress on the SDGs can also be used on relevant levelling up missions.

It’s important that Labour have committed to sustaining this policy and ensuring investment in communities is equal across the country.

However, metrics for measuring progress on levelling up should be geared towards local outcomes to ensure successful delivery.

3. Nationalising the railways

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh committed to the nationalisation of rail. As rail infrastructure is already in public ownership, this would apply to service provision and operation.

The intention behind nationalising the rail network and bringing it back into public ownership would be to improve services for customers and reduce fares.

Operators would be brought into public ownership gradually as contracts expire.

Over the past few years, it’s been unclear whether this was outright Labour policy, however Haigh and Starmer clearly outlined the need to “put the public back in control of the essential public transport they depend upon”.

Other key announcements relating to rail included plans to build an Elizabeth line for the North and deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full.

ICE’s position

As previously outlined in the ICE’s discussion paper, ‘Potential implications of the nationalisation of infrastructure’, ultimately, whether services are in public or private ownership, a long-term approach to asset management and investment is needed. This approach must be supported by sensible regulation, good governance and accountability to ensure best value for consumers.

Nationalisation of rail would have marginal short-term impacts, but in the longer term, an integrated network could improve decision-making and efficiency.

3. National Wealth Fund

The Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, announced that the Labour Party would create a new £8 billion fund to invest in and grow green industries such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, electric vehicles and low emission steel plants.

This fund would combine public and private funding, as well as proceeds from a windfall tax on the oil and gas sector.

Similar to the UK Infrastructure Bank, the shared wealth fund structure means that when the government invests in new industries, in partnership with business, the public will own a share of that wealth. Therefore, the taxpayer will get a return on that investment.

Initial projects include:

  • eight new battery factories,
  • six clean steel plants,
  • nine renewable-ready ports for offshore wind deployment,
  • the world’s largest hydrogen electrolyser plant, and
  • net-zero industrial clusters in every region of the country.

ICE’s position

The ICE has long argued for a UK Infrastructure Bank as a key element of the country’s strategic infrastructure framework.

Both the bank and the National Wealth Fund offer opportunities to strengthen longer-term, strategic decision-making, and guide future infrastructure planning and investment.

5. Industrial Strategy

Labour’s new Industrial Strategy was set out by Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The Industrial Strategy has four key missions:

  • delivering clean power by 2030
  • harnessing data for the public good
  • caring for the future
  • building a more resilient economy

The document is a starting point for further conversations with business, from which more detailed policy plans will be developed.

One policy already agreed upon is to place an Industrial Strategy Council on a statutory footing.

The council would help end situations where long-term plans do not survive political cycles, which makes it difficult for businesses to take decisions about their future investment.

ICE’s position

Well-functioning infrastructure, good rates of investment and skilled people mean higher levels of productivity.

The new Industrial Strategy from Labour is an important step in the right direction in ending a short-term approach to planning.

In case you missed it

  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, interim lead policy manager at ICE