Osborne announces plans for a National Infrastructure Commission

 

Chancellor George Osborne plans to establish a National Infrastructure Commission to help advise the government on which projects should be prioritised.

In his keynote address to the Conservative conference in Manchester, Mr Osborne announced that Labour transport secretary, Lord Adonis, has been appointed to lead the Commission.

The Commission is designed to help ‘shake Britain out of its inertia’ and help deliver major schemes including new railways, runways, power stations and homes, Mr Osborne said.

”Local
Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis, who was a key adviser to Tony Blair, has resigned the Labour whip and will sit as a cross-bench peer for the role, in a move that has been described as both a political coup for the chancellor and one designed to take the politics out of the commission.

It's remit will be to consider future infrastructure of national significance, not existing government infrastructure commitments or regulatory price controls. Airport expansion will also be outside of its scope for the time being after the Airports Commission already examined the issue.

The chancellor said: ‘I am delighted to tell you that the former Labour cabinet minister and transport secretary Andrew Adonis has agreed to be the commission’s first chair. He’ll now sit as a cross-bench peer and help us create Britain’s plan for the future – working together in the national interest.

‘Where would Britain be if we had never built railways or runways, power stations or new homes? Where will we be in the future if we stop building them now? I’m not prepared to turn to my children – or indeed anyone else’s child – and say: I’m sorry, we didn’t build for you. We have to shake Britain out of its inertia on the projects that matter most.’

The idea for an independent national infrastructure commission was suggested by Labour in opposition under Ed Miliband, following a report commissioned by the party from Sir John Armitt, former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority.

Mr Osborne's Commission is expected to be modelled on the independent fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility - set up in legislation by the coalition government.

It will be tasked with providing government with a five-year review - setting our plans for project priorities covering the next 30 years - likely to take be published soon after the start of each parliament.

An initial report from the Commission is due before the Budget 2016. 

A Conservative spokeswoman added that the Commission would only focus on projects of national significance and so would not interfere with local plans, although councils will have the opportunity to give evidence to the new body.

The Commission will start work immediately with an initial focus on improving connectivity between Northern cities including high speed rail (HS3), 'large-scale investment in London’s public transport infrastructure' and the UK's energy infrastructure needs of the future, government officials said.

No time limit has been set for the chairman's role. A Conservative spokeswoman said the Government was expecting strong cross-party support for the Commission and its chair.  

Lord Adonis said: ‘Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt. I am pleased to accept the chancellor’s invitation to establish the National Infrastructure Commission as an independent body able to advise government and parliament on priorities.

‘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, and the assessments which have underpinned them.’

The news was welcomed by the Institution of Civil Engineers' (ICE) director general, Nick Baveystock, who described it as a 'bold and positive move'.

'Infrastructure must be planned for the long term and the pressing need for an independent body, as a mechanism to build political consensus, has been recognised. We look forward to working with the Commission - ICE has already convened a coalition of business, industry and academic leaders to produce an evidence based assessment of the UK’s future infrastructure needs and we hope this can feed into the work. This is about making the right strategic choices,' he said.

In a separate move, Mr Osborne will also reveal plans to encourage the 89 local authority pension funds to pool their resources into half a dozen British Wealth Funds, each controlling assets of more than £25bn.

The move represents another push from the chancellor for pension scheme investment in infrastructure, after earlier attempts to win pension cash stalled.

 

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