Posted by

Peter Campbell, Policy Adviser

23 Jul 2012

Phew, what a flourish of activity on infrastructure we have seen over the past two weeks, with ministers rushing to get a series of announcements out before parliament rose. First there was the launch of the aviation strategy consultation (read my previous blog on aviation here), then came the proposals on rail spending for 2014 – 2019 and finally we had the unveiling of the government’s plans to provide securitisation for up £50bn of infrastructure projects.

In the broad sense, the BCC welcomed each of these announcements, they were all movements in the right direction, however all could be seen to be too little and rather late. Announced over the last couple of weeks was:

  • an aviation strategy originally due in March but delayed until July, and then omitting the key part (discussion of the UK’s hub status) and delaying that until the Autumn;
  • rail spending of £9.4bn which, while welcome, will not actually start until 2014 and more than half the total committed (£5.2bn out of £9.4bn) was actually for projects already announced to in earlier announcements;
  • financing guarantees which, despite representing an example of imaginative thinking at the Treasury, the BCC wants to see implemented on a wider scale than limited to just £50bn worth of projects.

Constraints in terms of connectivity and capacity on our roads and railways and through our airports and seaports have been tolerated by business on the promise of more investment to come, for too long. Traffic is snarled in the West Country on the A303 and in the North East on the A19 and A1. Heathrow is operating at 99% of capacity while Schiphol, out of necessity, is becoming the hub of choice of business travellers from Scotland, Manchester and Newcastle. The West Coast Mainline will be full in 10 years, while services across the North of England have been waiting for a decade or more for investment.

It is, frankly, about time the government woke up to these problems and started to do something about them. With growth proving elusive, infrastructure investment provides immediate confidence followed by jobs and greater competitiveness, while also being insulated from external shocks like those emanating from the eurozone. Now though, business expects rapid action and visible results on the ground to ensure these promises, and the National Infrastructure Plan, are worth the paper on which they are written.