The APPGI chair outlines what we can expect from the Spending Review and Autumn Budget.
We are heading into a period which will be very policy heavy. In the next few days, we will see the Spending Review and Autumn Budget, and in the coming weeks, papers on levelling up, net zero and union connectivity, the environment bill, integrated rail plan and more. What does the infrastructure sector want to see coming out of the announcements?
At the recent APPGI meeting, clear themes emerged in answer to this question: changes in the way infrastructure is delivered; moving from goals to delivery plans; devolution of funding; more long term clarity and certainty to allow greater planning and efficiency; and less talk, more action. Concerns were raised on the capacity and capability locally to deliver large infrastructure projects.
Local solutions to local problems
I agreed with the vast majority of what was said. But some political alarm bells rang, too. I am strongly in favour of devolution, working on the principle that the nearer a decision is made to the point of delivery, the more likely it is to solve the local problem. Local solutions to local problems is not that controversial an idea, so what’s the concern?
One of the learnings from my career in business and then in politics, including ministerial life, is to align accountability and responsibility. I would like to see local delivery supported by much more local fund raising, recognising there will always be some redistribution role for central government.
Without more fiscal devolution, we could just see more local politicians blaming Westminster for not giving them enough money. When one group of politicians is responsible for raising revenue and another group responsible for spending it, you get division and bad policy. And if you are in the spending group, it is an easy game to play. Equally, I know this question is long standing and incredibly hard to resolve – governments of all colours have failed to tackle it.
Positive announcements ahead
The meeting also had contributions from parliament and industry figures.
Professor Lord Robert Mair, past ICE President in its bicentenary year, raised small modular nuclear reactors, and their potential deployment. Always good to have an intervention from him, I had expected power generation to be raised given the current crisis and it being very unlikely to go away anytime soon.
There was a positive and optimistic tone to the meeting. There was a consensus around how the UK would benefit from changing the way spending commitments are made, with less stop-start and more steady maintained delivery. The meeting also saw interest in what we consider infrastructure, with housing, digital and power generation to be seen as part of our national infrastructure too.
The APPGI programme for 2022 is currently being planned. We are keen to hear from colleagues in both houses and beyond on topics for consideration. This is one of the liveliest groups in parliament, we will build on that with a programme that engages ever more people – so get in touch by emailing us. All requests will be considered.