Andrew Jones MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI), discusses his view on the Queen’s Speech and how infrastructure will be boosted.
The State Opening of Parliament is always a significant moment, especially the visit by the Queen, or Prince Charles on this occasion.
There’s also the pomp, the tradition and the first formal indication of the legislative programme for the year ahead.
The government’s priorities were made clear.
In this year’s Queen’s Speech, the number of bills outlined was high. That means there are busy times ahead.
Three bills jumped out to me from an infrastructure perspective: the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill, the Transport Bill, and the Energy Security Bill.
The UK Infrastructure Bank Bill – helping achieve national objectives
The UK Infrastructure Bank Bill was of great interest to me.
The ideas here are very clear: establish the bank in law, ensure the bank is operational and that it uses its £22 billion financial capacity to grow the economy and help the net zero transition. Great.
The role of infrastructure in helping achieve critical national objectives is something that I have commended before.
The government clearly believes in this investment for public good. My colleagues are keen to see it too.
In the future, we will see the bank as a further source of capital for investment.
Leveraging in private sector investment
Leverage in private sector investment in infrastructure is one area where the UK has not made sufficient progress.
It’s not because ministers have failed to recognise there are funds ready to invest. Ministers in successive governments have understood this.
The issue has been the mechanisms to bring in private capital. We have seen various schemes – PFI and its successor PF2.
This was discontinued formally in 2018, but the reality is that it wasn’t being used anyway, amid concerns about value and flexibility.
I was a treasury minister during part of the scrutiny and review period, and I could see more problems than solutions. So, I welcomed its end.
Helping to seize opportunities
The issue of how to bring in private capital remained unanswered, creating an under exploited opportunity.
The UK Infrastructure Bank will be a partner to unlock that capital, so its success will be followed closely.
I’m very optimistic about this feature of their work.
Another element of the bill that hasn’t received much notice is that the bank will be provided with the powers to lend directly to local authorities and the Northern Ireland Executive.
I have reservations about the capacity in some local authorities to handle major schemes, but on balance it's something I support.
Helping create local conditions for economic growth is an important role for councils, and this measure will help.
A focus on transport and energy security
There will be infrastructure implications in the Transport Bill, though its focus will be the creation of Great British Railways.
The bill will enable more electric vehicle charging points, recognising that range anxiety remains a significant issue in the take up of electric cars.
When it comes to the Energy Security Bill, price and security of supply as we transition to net zero could not be higher up the political agenda.
There are many elements of the energy sector that need work. This bill will matter.
In terms of infrastructure, we’re seeing investment in carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and more offshore wind, among other sources.
This isn’t news.
What the bill will seek to do is enable investments and, as with the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill, bring in private sector capital.
There’s a focus on innovation, diversification and creating the environment for more investment.
Good. We need it.
We have some detail on the bills ahead now and it looks encouraging. The devil is always in the detail, but let’s get on with it.