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Infrastructure blog

What does the UK’s new Labour government mean for infrastructure?

10 July 2024

Labour’s landslide victory in the 2024 general election shows a strong appetite for change. But what might this look like?

What does the UK’s new Labour government mean for infrastructure?
Sir Keir Starmer leads the new Labour government. Image credit: Keir Starmer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On Friday 5 July, the UK watched the Labour party seize the 2024 general election with a landslide majority.

Winning 411 out of 650 seats, Labour benefited from the biggest swing in a UK general election in 79 years.

With the swearing in of new MPs beginning yesterday, the new parliament is officially underway and ready to deliver its promises of ‘change’.

But what does ‘change’ look like for the UK’s infrastructure industry?

Meet the new cabinet

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer wasted no time forming his new cabinet, which met for the first time on Saturday.

Key ministers include:

Deputy PM and Communities Secretary: Angela Rayner

Deputy leader and Labour party chair since 2020, Rayner has now entered the cabinet as deputy prime minister and secretary of state for housing, communities, and local government.

Rayner has already put her stamp on her new department, scrapping the ‘levelling up’ title associated with former Conservative PM Boris Johnson.

Once a flagship Conservative policy, some suggest levelling up has achieved little in practical terms.

Devolving powers and investing in infrastructure in disadvantaged communities has been an area of cross-party agreement for some time.

Rayner and Starmer met England’s metro mayors on Tuesday morning to kickstart these discussions.

The name change signals a clearer strategic focus on local government. As infrastructure must be informed by local needs, this is a welcome development.

Chancellor: Rachel Reeves

Reeves is a former Bank of England economist.

After five months as shadow work and pensions minister in 2010, Reeves has been a key part of Labour’s shadow treasury for 14 years.

As shadow chancellor, Reeves was instrumental in creating Labour’s ‘pro-business’ economic policy and industrial strategy.

In a speech to the 2023 Labour conference, she pledged to speed up planning for critical infrastructure within the first six months of a Labour government.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Darren Jones

Jones has taken on the same role he’s held in the shadow cabinet since 2023.

He supports the chancellor’s economic policy and green investment. A trained data lawyer, he’s keenly interested in the benefits of new technology, including artificial intelligence.

In his shadow role, Jones led Labour’s comprehensive review into major infrastructure delivery, which the ICE fed into.

Energy Secretary: Ed Miliband

A former Labour leader, Miliband has been an MP since 2005.

He brings plenty of experience to the role of secretary of state for energy security and net zero.

From 2008 to 2010, under prime minister Gordon Brown, he helmed the department in its previous guise, ‘energy and climate change’.

He’s a strong supporter of speeding up climate action and investing in green industries.

The ICE has recommended prioritising public engagement and behavioural change to reduce emissions and reach key net zero targets.

Clean energy commitments are a step in the right direction – but questions remain around how Great British Energy will deliver in practice.

Transport Secretary: Louise Haigh

A Labour frontbencher since 2015, Haigh's previous shadow secretary appointments include Northern Ireland, policing, and digital economy.

She’s headed Labour’s transport department since 2021.

In this role, Haigh has frequently spoken about the importance of rail and public transport and expressed support for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2.

In a speech to the 2023 Labour Party Conference, she committed to “a credible and transformative programme of transport infrastructure investment”.

Environment Secretary: Steve Reed

Reed has been a Labour MP for 12 years. Before joining parliament, he spent 12 years as a Lambeth councillor – six as council leader.

During 12 years in opposition, he’s held a variety of frontbench roles, including in the Home Office and the former Department for Housing, Communities, and Levelling Up.

He became shadow environment secretary in September 2023.

In this role, he’s called for land management that supports regenerative farming and nature recovery, and planning reform to help farmers generate renewable energy for the national grid.

He supports tighter regulation of sewage discharges by water companies.

Business Secretary: Jonathan Reynolds

A career-long politician and Labour party member, Reynolds became an MP in 2010.

In 2013, he became shadow minister for energy and climate change, a role he “loved”.

He’s a strong advocate of the ‘green economy’ – one that’s low-carbon, resource-efficient, and socially inclusive.

Reynolds is in favour of electricity market reform and expanding community energy.

The government has also begun making junior ministerial appointments, including ICE Fellow Lord Peter Hendy, who has joined the Department for Transport.

A ‘mission-led’ government

While the UK government’s traditional department structure hasn’t changed, Labour’s election campaign focused on a ‘mission-led’ approach to government.

Based on economist Maria Mazzucato’s work on the ‘mission economy’, Labour has set out five missions for government, from criminal justice to early years and education.

These missions will apply across government silos and emphasise long-term outcomes over short-term fixes.

In his first press conference as prime minister, Starmer announced that he’ll establish ‘mission delivery boards’, which he’ll chair.

Of most relevance to the infrastructure sector are Labour’s promises on economic growth and energy security. The party’s manifesto pledges included:

  • A new 10-year infrastructure strategy
  • A new industrial strategy
  • Measures to turn the UK into a ‘clean energy superpower’ and ‘the green finance capital of the world’
  • A long-term strategy for transport, including bringing railways back into public ownership

Read the ICE’s analysis of the 2024 Labour manifesto

What’s next for the new government?

Many of Labour’s promises will require new legislation to enact.

On 17 July, the King’s Speech will outline several new bills – including, it is expected, legislation on energy and rail reform.

However, not all reforms require legislation. The new government has already overturned a de facto ban on onshore wind by making two amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Work has also begun on the creation of a new National Wealth Fund.

Aligning the British Business Bank and the UK Infrastructure Bank, the new institution will seek to boost private investment in technology and infrastructure.

Next steps for the ICE

The ICE works closely with decision-makers in government. We’ll be engaging with senior and junior ministers on our priorities for the next UK government in the coming days.

As a registered charity with a public duty, the ICE serves governments and decision-makers at all levels as an independent, impartial advisor on infrastructure policy.

As well as new ministers and ministerial teams, the ICE will continue to engage with opposition and industry leaders to ensure informed debate, discussion, and progress.

Read the ICE’s priorities for the next UK government

In case you missed it

  • Ben Gosling, speechwriter and policy content manager at ICE