Hurry up with Project Speed, sector says

 

A leading sub-national transport body (STB) has expressed disappointment at the lack of new infrastructure spending in the chancellor’s economic statement.

Setting out what he called a Plan for Jobs, Rishi Sunak cited plans announced last week to accelerate projects worth £5bn but produced no new money.

It follows similar noises from the prime minister who pledged to 'build, build, build' in a recent flagship speech but offered no new money to do it with.

”Local

Maria Machancoses (pictured), director of Midlands Connect, said: ‘If we’re going to rebound and recover from the impact of COVID-19, we need a greater emphasis on infrastructure.'

Sir John Peace, chairman of Midlands Engine, welcomed the overall plan but said: 'We need investment in infrastructure.

'The chancellor spoke of Project Speed, the Government’s intention to speed up the delivery and development of infrastructure projects.

'If we are to get spades in the ground on some of the vital improvement works in the pipeline, for example, Midlands Engine Rail, then government needs to fund the development of these schemes as soon as possible, so that they are ready to build in two or three years, rather than seven or eight years.'

He added: 'Our public transport system needs investment, and I hope such funding will be forthcoming in the autumn Budget. It is essential that we build an integrated transport network across the region and move freight from our roads onto our railways, reducing carbon emissions.'

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, the only statutory STB, also welcomed the statement but stressed that the region was awaiting firm commitments for infrastructure schemes.

He said: 'The commitments to creating green jobs and supporting young workers into skilled roles are particularly essential to ensure the UK bounces back in a sustainable way. Transport and other infrastructure projects will play a vital role in making that a reality.

'We welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to levelling up and continue to stress the need for confirmed funding for a Northern Infrastructure Pipeline of road and rail projects, including the delivery of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full.

'It is vital that the Spending Review and National Infrastructure Strategy later this year set out a sustained pipeline of investment to breathe life into our Northern economy and form the bedrock of job creation, closing the productivity gap.'

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said it was 'gratifying that the chancellor made special mention of the £39bn the construction industry brings to the economy’.

He said: ‘The infrastructure sector faces a potential challenge as it is expected to come up to speed at the same time the furlough is removed. The chancellor’s decision to support businesses who retain or hire previously furloughed employees will be vital to boosting the economy and preventing job losses as far as is practicable.

‘However, it is unclear how this move will not penalise companies that didn’t furlough employees, which include many of our members, who under Government guidance returned to work as soon as suitable safety measures had been implemented.’

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