Key figures in the local authority and transport sectors have declared themselves to be underwhelmed by the chancellor’s promise of an 'infrastructure revolution'.
In his set-piece Spending Round announcement on Wednesday, Sajid Javid promised £200m of new money for bus services including cash for low emission buses and 'new on-demand services' - with further details ‘in due course’.
Mr Javid was told by the speaker to get to the point of his speech
Mr Javid praised fellow ministers and Treasury officials for the speed of the Spending Round. However, his announcement was short of details, and so padded out he was told by the Speaker to get to the point twice.
The phrase 'in due course' is common government code for a policy that has yet to be fully worked out.
He did include the intentionally ironic revelation that his father was a bus driver, which while redundant, did at least have the advantage of humour.
Mark Robinson, chief executive of public procurement body Scape Group, said: ‘It's promising to see the chancellor recognise the UK has fallen behind its competitors thanks to our underinvestment in infrastructure.
‘However, today’s announcement lacked clarity on any fresh funding or detailed plans to rectify the problem. Crossrail is still falling behind, yesterday fresh industry data reignited fears that the construction sector is falling into recession – and HS2 could now be delayed by up to seven years.
'Stronger transport links between UK cities is vital for the economy to prosper nationwide. The “infrastructure revolution” can’t wait. We need action now.’
Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, sounded a more positive note but, like many, put new money for buses in the context of the damage done by austerity cuts.
He said: ‘Buses are the backbone of our public transport system, connecting communities, getting people to and from work, and supporting the economy, so the £200m is much needed to restore and improve bus networks and set a path to zero emissions.’
Mr Javid also announced that councils will have access to new funding of £1.5bn for social care next year, which he described as ‘a down payment on the more fundamental reforms the prime minister will set out in due course’.
Jonathan Werran, chief executive of think tank Localis, said: ‘The well-rehearsed social care funding announcement, offering councils access to £1.5bn, and its framing as a down-payment for future reforms will come as some measure of relief to local government, but comes in the absence of any further solid determinations on long-term funding reform.
‘A genuine solid financial foundation for local government would entail more than attempts to clawback some of the trajectory of spending reviews since 2010, and point to a longer-term move towards fiscal devolution in recognition that council tax and business rates revenues will not suffice to meet further care and local service demands.‘
'Although this is more of a marathon than the record-breaking sprint which Rishi Sunak and HM Treasury have accomplished in this fastest of spending round processes, it would promise to establish a stronger and more stable local state upon which an infrastructure revolution might be built and help with levelling up prosperity and productivity across all parts of the country.'