Infrastructure chief demands government action to transform UK

Sir John Armitt.

National Infrastructure Commission chair Sir John Armitt has today called on the chancellor 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, Armitt 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 UKs energy, transport, water and technology networks over the next 30 years. The government is required to consider the proposals and formally respond with its own strategy.

Armitt 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 last month, Armitt 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, Armitt’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.”

“The commission was established to encourage a radical change in the way the UK plans and funds its infrastructure for the long term,” said Armitt. “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 Urban Transport Group (UTG), the UK's network of city region transport authorities, said that the NIC was right to focus on making devolved funding for urban transport to cities a key test of the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy. UTG director Jonathan Bray said: “Sir John Armitt is absolutely right to make devolved funding to city regions for urban transport a key test of the government’s future infrastructure plan, a move which would undoubtedly lead to higher quality transport in cities, and all the associated benefits this brings. 

“Where funding for transport has already been devolved to city regions, we have seen better services for the communities and the people which they serve. We hope government will take on board the commission’s recommendations and we look forward to its National Infrastructure Strategy this autumn.”

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