Labour pushes for infrastructure committee
A report commissioned by the Labour Party is urging a change to the way major infrastructure projects are agreed and delivered. The report says that party political confrontation over vital projects is getting in the way of their implementation.
The report, from Olympic Delivery Authority chairman Sir John Armitt, found that in areas such as water and transport infrastructure, where multimillion-pound projects can span decades, the five-year electoral cycle is getting in the way of strategic planning on investment. It called for the creation of an independent National Infrastructure Commission, appointed by government and opposition parties, to identify the UK's long-term infrastructure needs and monitor the plans developed by governments to meet them.
The new commission would assess Britain’s needs every ten years, with the government obliged to put the key recommendations to a parliamentary vote within six months.
Once projects were approved, government departments would have a year to draw up comprehensive plans on how schemes would be delivered. That would include sources of funding, timeframes and the vehicles to be used to build the project.
The Armitt Review says that the Office for National Statistics forecasts UK population will grow to more than 73 million people by 2035, but concludes that “there is little evidence that governments are planning for the infrastructure we will need by then to support another ten million people".
It also says that the government’s National Infrastructure Plan is “not strategic” and is “essentially a list of projects which is not built up from an evidence-based assessment of the UK’s long-term needs".
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said: "This excellent report sets out a clear blueprint for how we can better identify, plan and deliver our infrastructure needs. The Olympics showed what can be done when there is cross-party consensus and a sense of national purpose.
"Now we need that same drive and spirit to plan ahead for the next 30 years and the needs of future generations."
However, Treasury minister David Gauke, criticising the report, said that the government was doing enough: "This is a massive own goal from Ed Balls. This government is clearing up the mess, creating an economy for hardworking people by investing in the biggest programme of infrastructure development since the Victorian era."
Nick Baveystock, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), said: “The clash between the need for long-term strategic infrastructure planning and the nature of short-term political cycles has for too long been a hindrance to delivering the infrastructure we need, when it is needed and at price we can afford.
“An independent commission tasked with identifying the best options for meeting the priorities approved by parliament, at arm’s length from government, is a concept ICE has championed and could help to ensure projects stand above political fault lines. We therefore support Sir John’s proposals and hope they are adopted by the main parties.
“The commission is not, however, a magic bullet − a web of other organisations, rules and established practices affect how our infrastructure is developed and further reforms will be needed.”
The Armitt Review makes the following core recommendations aimed at achieving cross-party political consensus, public support and investor certainty for long-term decisions on the UK’s water, energy, transport, waste, flood defence and telecommunications needs:
- A new independent National Infrastructure Commission to look 25-30 years ahead at the evidence for the UK’s future needs across all significant national infrastructure and set clear priorities, for example, nationwide flood prevention or energy supply
- This National Infrastructure Assessment would be carried out every ten years and include extensive research and consultations with the public, local government, NGOs, regulators and other interested groups or individuals
- A parliamentary vote on the evidence-based infrastructure priorities would have to take place within six months of their publication, to avoid delays
- Within 12 months of this vote government departments would have to form detailed 10-year sector plans of how they will deliver and fund work towards these priorities
- Parliament would then vote on these ten-year plans and the permanent National Infrastructure Commission would scrutinise the ability of these plans to meet the 25-30 year national priorities and report to Parliament annually on their delivery.
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