Adonis quits as chair of National Infrastructure Commission

Lord Adonis has resigned as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission after accusing the government of “having no credible plan for the future of British trade and European co-operation,  all the while ignoring - beyond soundbites and inadequate programmes - the crises of housing, education, the NHS, and social and regional inequality.”

In a strongly worded resignation letter Adonis accused the prime minister of becoming the voice of UKIP and pursuing policies that would leave Britain in splendid isolation. Speaking to the BBC earlier today, Adonis said: “My differences with the government had become too great, not only on Brexit, which I think is being handled very badly … but increasingly Brexit is infecting the whole conduct of Whitehall. We’re seeing that including in infrastructure itself.”

In his letter of resignation Adonis praised the good work that the NIC had done over the past 27 months, thanks to dedicated public servants and commissioners. “Sir John Armitt, my deputy chair, and Phil Graham, chief executive, have been brilliant throughout,” he said. “I am particularly proud of our plans for equipping the UK with world-class 4G and 5G mobile systems; for Crossrail 2 in London and HS3 to link the Northern cities; and for transformational housing growth in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor,” said Adonis.

He said that he hoped to see those plans implemented without delay, however he revealed that his work at the commission had become increasingly clouded by disagreement with the government and “after much consideration I am writing to resign because of fundamental differences, on infrastructure and beyond, which simply cannot be bridged,” he said.

Adonis also said that notwithstanding his disagreements with the government over Brexit, he would have resigned as chair of the NIC over the government’s policy on rail franchising. “I would have been obliged to resign from the commission at this point anyway because of the transport secretary's indefensible decision to bail-out the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise. The bailout will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, possibly billions if other loss-making rail companies demand equal treatment. It benefits only the billionaire owners of these companies and their shareholders, while pushing rail fares still higher and threatening national infrastructure investment. It is even more inexcusable given the Brexit squeeze on public spending,” Adonis said.

Commenting on Adonis’s departure, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), Nelson Ogunshakin, said: “Throughout his career Lord Adonis has served infrastructure well, yet he can be especially proud of what he achieved as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission where he was a champion for our industry at the heart of government. 

“We now urgently need to secure a credible individual, such as current deputy Sir John Armitt, to step up as chair to maintain the commission’s momentum and its vital role in reminding ministers and civil servants, who may be distracted by issues surrounding Brexit, of the long-term importance of infrastructure investment to the economy and society.”

The major infrastructure projects that Adonis and the NIC championed are still likely to go ahead without his chairmanship, not least because his approach is one that is shared by the chancellor, who sees investment in infrastructure as key in offsetting the impact of Brexit on the economy. However, Theresa May will want to appoint a replacement at the earliest opportunity to ensure that confidence in the infrastructure sector is maintained. 

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