Britain to get new Infrastructure Commission

By on 05/10/2015
The UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Photo by UK Treasury

Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer has today announced the creation of a new independent body to advise the government on new infrastructure projects.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference, George Osborne said Britain was “pretty rubbish” at making decisions on projects and it would be a “disaster” to stop building roads and railways.

He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the new National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) would “shake Britain out of its inertia” on making big decisions.

The new commission – which will be modelled on the independent fiscal watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility, set up in legislation after the 2010 election – will initially focus on London’s transport system, connections between cities in the north of England, and updating the energy network – funded by selling off land, buildings and other government assets.

It will start work immediately and will produce a report at the start of each five-year Parliament containing recommendations of projects.

The plan has been welcomed by the Institute for Government (IfG) think-tank, which works to increase government effectiveness.

Its director Peter Riddell said: “The creation of a National Infrastructure Commission is a key recommendation of our Programme for Effective Government, building on our work with the LSE Growth Commission.

“The Government should ensure that the commission is designed to be as effective as possible. It is encouraging to see suggestions that the new Commission will directly recommend specific infrastructure projects, rather than simply identifying a more generic ‘need’.”

Malcolm Bairstow, head of infrastructure at consultancy and accounting firm EY, said: “It’s been a long time coming but the creation of a NIC is a once in a generation opportunity to provide much needed momentum to the delivery of critical infrastructure investment in the UK.

“The mantra of the NIC should be bold thinking, innovative design, swift planning and efficient execution but there are also numerous fundamental issues that will need to be addressed to ensure success. These include training and skills shortages as well as access to private sector financing and funding.”

The idea for the NIC was first proposed by Labour in its manifesto for May’s general election.

The new commission will be led by Lord Adonis, former Labour transport secretary.

The poaching of such a high profile New Labour figure – the father of Blair’s schools academy programme and of the HS2 rail line – is seen as a highly political move by the chancellor as he follows the former Labour prime minister’s “big tent” approach as a way of occupying the centre ground.

Lord Adonis said today: “Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt.

“Major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and building major new power stations span governments and Parliaments. I hope it will be possible to forge a wide measure of agreement across society and politics on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20 to 30 years.”

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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