Commenting on Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander’s announcements on key infrastructure projects, Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said:
“This high-profile statement of intent on key transport, housing and energy projects is a positive step, as it gives both businesses and investors greater confidence in the government’s commitment to improve UK infrastructure. This commitment must now be translated into action on the ground, and quickly.
“Infrastructure projects are too often promised and too rarely delivered in this country, and that cycle must be broken. If these announcements are to translate into short-term confidence, medium-term construction jobs and long-term competitiveness, the Whitehall machine must be judged by the number of diggers on the ground, not strategies and press notices.“Business is pleased that the Chancellor and his team have given ‘forward guidance’ on infrastructure spending. While the numbers are nowhere near enough to overcome Britain’s infrastructure deficit, the fact that they are set out over a longer period helps. Now, ministers must focus on de-risking infrastructure investment for private money, to bring institutional investors and pension funds from across the world to the table.”
On house-building:
“The government’s commitment to build 165,000 new affordable homes responds directly to the BCC’s long-standing call for direct house-building – but the timing’s off. We need to see this direct house-building start sooner, rather than two years down the line. House-building creates local jobs, boosts local supply chains, and boosts business confidence. So while the government’s intent is positive, and provides greater certainty, it needs to move faster.”
On road maintenance:
“The BCC called for a major boost to road maintenance at this year’s Budget, and the government has finally responded. The allocation of £6bn to maintain local roads and £4bn for strategic roads will be cheered by businesses across the country. However, we would have liked to see this funding available earlier than 2015, as road maintenance schemes can get underway quickly and build confidence.”
On road schemes:
“Improvements to the A14, A19, A303, M20 and M4 are all huge priorities for businesses stymied by congestion and by poor access to key cities and ports. We are pleased that the government is finally responding to some of the local business transport priorities we set out before the last General Election – but delivery is what really counts on the ground. We will push for promised road upgrades to swing into action as fast as possible.”
On changes to the Highways Agency:
“Businesses across England want a strategic road network that is responsive to their needs. If the new governance arrangements proposed for the Highways Agency ensure it delivers the best possible roads, the shortest possible journey times and sustained future investment, we will support them.”
On High Speed rail and rail electrification:
“Business supports HS2 because it will transform the capacity of our rail network. By setting out clear budgets for the project, the government will increase business confidence that this crucial piece of our national infrastructure will get built.
“Business has been a key backer of rail electrification, and has called for action on lines like the Great Western and Midland mainlines and the Transpennine route for many years. Electrification has been announced previously, though. What counts now is visible construction on the ground across the UK.”
On energy:
“To ensure our future energy security, Britain needs to tap into in all the sources of energy available, including new nuclear power stations, renewable energy, and shale gas. While the announcement of a strike price for renewables is welcome, negotiations need to be completed on nuclear energy as soon as possible. Shale gas must also be investigated as a serious contributor to our national energy needs.”