Armitt challenges government to commit to building a future infrastructure fit for a post-Brexit Britain

Published: 12 May 2019

By: NIC

Portrait of Sir John Armitt

National Infrastructure Commission Chair Sir John Armitt has called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use this autumn’s Spending Review to commit to a once-in-a-generation transformation of the UK’s transport, energy and technology networks.

In a letter to the Chancellor, Sir John lays down four key tests by which the Commission will judge the credibility of the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, which is expected to be announced at the autumn Spending Review.

The Commission published the country’s first National Infrastructure Assessment last year, a series of detailed recommendations as to how the government should develop the UK’s energy, transport, water and technology networks over the next thirty years. The government is required to consider the proposals and formally respond with its own strategy.

Sir John warned:

“Building the right infrastructure for the mid-21st century will help Britain shape a new national and global identity. One built on optimism and confidence.

“The government must not deliver a weak strategy that pays only lip service to our recommendations. We don’t want to hear vague promises and a restatement of existing commitments.”

In a speech to MPs at the start of the month, Sir John insisted that the Commission would hold the government’s “feet to the fire” in the lead up the Spending Review to ensure that the final infrastructure strategy delivered a genuine, shared vision for the future of the country.

In the letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John’s key tests are:

  • A long term perspective – the strategy must look beyond the immediate spending review period and set out the government’s expectations for infrastructure funding and policy up to 2050;
  • Clear goals and plans to achieve them – where the government endorses an Assessment recommendation, this should be backed up with a specific plan, with clear deadlines and identified owners, to ensure the Commission can easily check progress;
  • A firm funding commitment – the government should commit to providing funding in line with the upper limit of the agreed guideline: 1.2% of GDP a year invested in infrastructure;
  • A genuine commitment to change – recommendations such as devolving funding for urban transport to cities and a national standard for flood resilience are fundamental policy changes, and “the strategy needs to respond in the same spirit.”

Sir John’s letter welcomed the commitments already made by the government in its plans for expanding fibre broadband accessibility, improving the resilience of the water supply and tougher standards on waste and recycling – all of which reflect recommendations made in the Commission’s Assessment.

Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt said:

“The Commission was established to encourage a radical change in the way the UK plans and funds its infrastructure for the long term. These four tests represent our  minimum requirements ahead of this autumn’s Spending Review for determining the effectiveness of the government’s response.

“We’ve seen positive steps from government in adopting our recommendations on reducing water leakage and tackling waste. But those were the easy wins. Real change is required if we are to boost our economic prosperity and quality of life up to 2050. That requires the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy to be bold and transformative and commit to major changes like devolving funding for cities transport.”

“We’ve put forward a costed plan for how we do that, backed up by a wealth of new evidence in support. We now need the government to step up to the plate and share our ambition to create a bold future for the infrastructure that people across the country will use every day of their lives.”

The National Infrastructure Assessment

The Assessment delivered a costed and achievable programme within a fiscal remit of 1 to 1.2% of GDP a year invested in infrastructure, set by the government, within which all Assessment recommendations should be delivered.

Among its main recommendations were:

  • Extending access to full fibre broadband services across the country, with government funding to enable provision in rural and remote communities;
  • Aiming for 50 per cent of the UK’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, with the government offering support for no more than one nuclear power station after Hinkley Point C between now and 2025;
  • Creating a truly national, visible charging network for electric vehicles through subsidies in areas where the private sector won’t deliver in the short term, and through councils allocating a portion of their parking spaces for future charging points;
  • Providing additional powers and £43billion funding between now and 2040 to city leaders to develop strategies for improving their local transport networks and delivering new job opportunities and homes; and
  • Delivering a national resilience standard to protect communities against the risk of flooding, and setting water companies a target to halve the amount of water lost to leakages to ensure supplies are resilient against an increased risk of drought.

As part of its remit, the National Infrastructure Commission is required to produce a National Infrastructure Assessment once in every Parliament, setting out the NIC’s assessment of long term infrastructure needs along with recommendations to the government. The government can choose to accept or reject the Commission’s recommendations, but where they are rejected, the government must provide a clear reason why. In addition, the Commission is charged with monitoring the government’s progress in delivering infrastructure projects and programmes recommended by the Commission.

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