Andrew Jones MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure, looks at how this week's announcement from Chancellor Rishi Sunak put in place the tools to do infrastructure faster.
Budgets are always events and this one was. Even if it lacked the customary parliamentary theatre, the context more than made up for that, as the chancellor’s task was one of the hardest in decades.
Key announcement: the UK Infrastructure Bank
Obviously the financial statement is published and we have all seen the headlines, but alongside the Budget there are many other publications.
One was the policy design for the UK Infrastructure Bank. We knew it was coming, that had been long announced. We knew it would be based in the north, but now we know it will be in Leeds. I think this is good news for a number of reasons.
It shows there is real momentum to taking the UK Infrastructure Bank from announcement to a functioning institution. And that the institution will play a major role in the plan for growth. Indeed, Chancellor Rishi Sunak clearly sees it as an ingredient in ‘levelling-up’ and delivering a greener digital future.
The advantages of being up north
The northern location is particularly welcome. I am not saying that because I am a proud Yorkshireman, but after some years as a minister in both the Department for Transport and Treasury, I know from direct experience that projects are often discussed from a London perspective. Connectivity to our biggest economic driver, London, is indeed important, but it is not the only problem to solve.
People and goods also need to travel across the Pennines, between the east and west midlands etc. That is understood, but they are much harder sells. Changing which end of the telescope we are looking through will, in the longer term, lead to more even distribution of infrastructure investment.
Speeding up investment
Looking ahead, acceleration is the key word. How does UK plc get to a place where we see infrastructure investment delivered faster, we bring in private investment to add to the public, we use new technologies for user benefits etc?
The speed of project delivery has been a UK problem for years. The Bank should help address these issues, indeed it will be in their remit, but I am sure it is the construction industry itself that will be the biggest driver of change.
A new review for successful local regeneration
There are often reviews launched at Budgets. No exception this time, either. From an infrastructure perspective, the one to most interest my parliamentary colleagues will be the National Infrastructure Commission looking at evidence on infrastructure investment and local regeneration.
It will be of interest because colleagues see this type of investment as critical to future growth, but it can be hard to make the case. Collecting evidence will show what works, share best practice and help focus energies on priorities.
Infrastructure remains a priority despite worsening public finances
Looking at the Budget, I was also encouraged by what wasn’t said. Despite the public finances being in a very different and much worse position since Budget 2020, spending on the government’s policy agenda remains high and ambitious. No being blown off track here. There was a simplicity to the chancellor’s argument, and I think that will have helped it land so well.
From the perspective of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure, I think colleagues will be pleased with what they heard. This has been a good budget for infrastructure.
The centrepieces of the Budget were rightly pandemic support, our public finances and measures for their recovery, so it could be easy to think infrastructure is not the priority it had been. Wrong. This Budget put in place the tools to do the job quicker.