Positive signs for infrastructure could be frustrated by political events

The chancellor’s spending review has merely placed a promissory note before the construction industry which must now await the outcome of events to find out whether it is worth anything or not, says Julian Francis.

Chancellor of the exchequer, Sajid Javid.

The chancellor today has outlined the one-year spending review that aims to stabilise UK government spending in the lead up to and in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Coming as it does so soon on the heels of the loss of the government’s majority and the possibility of an impending general election, it will carry less weight then a statement of this kind should. 

The overall aim of the review is to ensure a real term increase in government spending of around 4.1% between 2019 and 2021. As part of this, the chancellor has called for an infrastructure revolution that will power British growth in the years to come but that statement like much else besides seems to lack the detail one would expect from the chancellor of the exchequer.  

For the infrastructure sector, the true meat will come later in the year as Javid announced that he will publish the National Infrastructure Strategy ahead of the budget with, one assumes, far greater detail into how this revolution is to take place. 

Our industry can take some heart from the announcement that the government will accept the public value framework as recommended by Sir Michael Barber’s report. This is good news for ACE and its members as we have campaigned for this to happen. We feel that a focus on outcome rather than cost will lead to better deliver of infrastructure projects in the long term as it will allow the correct level of investment in design and planning at the start of a project which is currently lacking. We also welcome the announcement of the continued investment in the strategic road network and our rail infrastructure to the tune of £1.1bn and £275m respectively. 

Although this statement has been light on facts for our sector today, it seems to herald a new approach to infrastructure investment in the budget in November but given the state of our politics at the moment we can be forgiven for not getting too excited at this time. There is a lot that needs to happen between now and then including the government winning a majority in a proposed election. 

Far from providing the certainty we would expect form a spending review statement, the chancellor today has merely placed a promissory note before our industry and we must await the outcome of events to find out whether it is worth anything or not.

Julian Francis is the director of policy and external affairs at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering. 

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