An Independent Infrastructure Commission, created by statute, is key to ensuring cross party political support

Sir John Armitt

Our ability to access electricity, broadband, reliable affordable transport systems, fresh water, sewage disposal, all free from flooding is fundamental to a civilised way of life. In the UK today you might think we are relatively well off but a World Economic Forum survey rates us 28th.

In part we still benefit from the legacy of our Victorian forebears but it cannot last forever.

If we are to compete on the world stage, grow our economy and provide the infrastructure our grand children deserve we must plan today for the long term.

The plans must be based on considered evidence and have public and cross party support. For too long we have had a short term expedient approach with too many changes of priorities and policies, it is not good enough, we cannot pull the covers over our heads and assume the challenges will go away.

Bad infrastructure is bad for people, bad for business, bad for our future.

Long term strategy enables Government Departments, business, investors, educators to plan and invest with confidence.

Since the launch last September of my Review and proposal for an Independent Infrastructure Commission I have consulted politicians, sector organisations and interest groups and encountered widespread support for the idea.

Let me briefly remind you of the concept.

An Independent Infrastructure Commission, created by statute, its Chair appointed by the PM would be charged with producing a 30 year assessment of our infrastructure needs across all the key  sectors. The public, politicians, sector organisations and campaign groups would be consulted on those predicted needs, recognising environmental obligations.

The conclusions would be passed to the Chancellor who would be obliged to lay them before parliament for debate and approval. So we would have an act of parliament which defined our future needs.

That would be passed to the relevant Secretaries of State who working with Industry and Regulators and others would be required to produce Sector Infrastructure Plans showing how through specific projects they would meet those long term needs, how the projects would be financed, delivered and operated. Again full consultation would be required before the plans were laid before Parliament for debate and approval through an act of parliament. The whole process would be repeated every ten years.

The Commission in addition to its work identifying future needs would review the sector plans, publish its views and report to parliament on progress on a regular basis.

Some people have interpreted my proposal as taking thee politics out of infrastructure. Nothing could be further from my intention. You cannot take politics out of infrastructure. Infrastructure is best delivered with cross party support and consistent political leadership. The Olympics was a great example.

This proposal seeks to engage the public and politicians from the outset when identifying the country’s needs and to be able to provide well informed guidance to our politicians  and their parliamentary process  to help them make good decisions for the benefit of the country for the long term.

I have published a draft bill and explanatory notes to enable a future Government to, if it wished, take forward this plan and implement it quickly. I welcome comments over the next four months so it can be finalised early next year.