Andrew Jones MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure, comments on last week's Queen’s Speech announcements.
The State Opening of Parliament is an occasion, and in lots of ways. There is the pomp and circumstance, the reminder in the ceremony of key moments in our democratic history, and we hear the bills that will be coming before the next session of parliament.
Even the slimmed-down version we had this year had a sense of occasion. It's always very special when the Queen visits.
Infrastructure and the Queen’s Speech
What did the speech mean for infrastructure?
Firstly, I have every sympathy with those involved in transport planning right now. We have seen pandemic driven changes in behaviour, but we don't know if the changes are permanent or how long they will last.
If you're in the Treasury or the Department for Transport (DfT), you have to be asking yourself what changes I need to make to plans or budgets.
The Queen’s Speech gave us a positive indication that government continues to see infrastructure investment as an ingredient in the delivery of a number of priorities. These are levelling up, the union, and hitting carbon targets, and each of those is huge.
There are obvious overlaps of course. More connectivity from enhanced rail capacity will facilitate more economic activity, and more capacity will allow more rail freight, which will take vehicles off the roads, so reducing carbon etc. The thinking is easy to see. And it’s not wrong.
Of particular note to me was the explicit linking of economic ties across our union with investing in and improving our national infrastructure, showing the merits of what can be achieved at a UK level, in addition to what can be achieved by the devolved administrations.
We have the Union Connectivity Review of course, and that is clearly seen as very significant. Good.
High Speed 2
In practical terms, one infrastructure bill is coming forward right away. That is the HS2 Bill covering the Crewe to Manchester section, the west leg of the 'Y'. This is very positive news, and I look forward to supporting it.
Having been the minister that got the bill for the first phase through the last part of its parliamentary journey, not easy by the way, my support should be no surprise. I want to see HS2 delivered in full as soon as practical, and that includes the eastern leg of the 'Y', too.
The set of elections last week confirmed the priority of the levelling up agenda, if anyone actually needed it confirming.
It is simply what many, many communities are looking for. It's not a north/south question in my opinion, though I have seen it described that way. It's about bringing opportunity, and all that flows from it, to parts of the country that have not had their share. It's about the economy, of course, but also skills, health, devolution to shape your own future, and much more.
The pressure to deliver will be huge. Colleagues are starting to return to Westminster, away from virtual to physical participation. The side conversations about their concerns and interests therefore resume. And the interest in infrastructure is undimmed, physical and digital. The pressure to deliver will be maintained in parliament.
So for those interested in infrastructure, we have had a good Queen’s Speech. The intent is there for all to see. I think the challenge is now moving to one of delivery, and as I have just said that will come from a number of sources, and it will be high. What a good challenge to have.
Andrew Jones MP is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure and Conservative MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough.
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