Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
Chris Williamson (Derby North, Labour)
We have had almost two and a half years of this Government pledging one thing and delivering another. As we have already heard from the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, the reality of the Bill is different from the rhetoric. Although it hints at activity, everyone knows that, behind the hyperbole, Ministers are driven by a laissez-faire ideology that is resulting in economic indolence.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury suggests that the Bill will trigger economic growth, but the backdrop to the Bill is the Government’s failed austerity programme, which is resulting in economic strangulation. The damage has already been done.
I suppose hon. Members should be grateful that Ministers are at least taking a few tentative steps in the right direction, but the Government’s economic incompetence has left a mountain to climb. The Bill hardly represents a damascene conversion. I know from personal experience that if I put half a tank of petrol in a diesel engine, I will damage the car. I cannot fix it by topping it up with a half tank of the right fuel. To make the car work again, I must repair the engine before applying the diesel.
That is a simple metaphor, but we need to speak in simple terms to help Government Members to understand the error of their ways. Let us remind ourselves that they are responsible for two and a half years of counter-productive and damaging cuts; two and a half years of hurting this nation’s most vulnerable people; two and a half years of sucking the lifeblood out of our economy rather than breathing new life into it; and two and a half years of destroying employment, creating a housing crisis, killing off opportunities for young people, devastating public services and driving forward a dangerous economic and social experiment. That is the Government’s legacy after just two and a half years.
Commendable though it might have been two and a half years ago, the Bill is in danger of being too little, too late. In any event, where is the guarantee that the Government will deliver on any of what is proposed in the Bill? Let us be honest: given the Government’s dismal track record to date, people are not exactly holding their breath in anticipation. We have already heard mention of the Government’s abject failure to bring about any of the road-building projects announced in the autumn statement. Promises to deliver on housing have been followed up with statistical proof that up and down the land there has been a dramatic fall in the number of new housing starts. Away from infrastructure, the Government have fared little better, having pledged to hand control to communities but then producing legislation taking power back to the centre.
Although the Bill would authorise the Treasury to incur costs in order to support infrastructure, please forgive me if I am a little hesitant in believing that it will yield many positive outcomes. That lack of clarity will continue to hinder true economic recovery. Half-baked legislation will not address the carnage left behind by the Government’s reckless ambition to shrink the role of the state. The British people are crying out for a fundamental change in direction from the Government. Plan A has been an utter disaster. For goodness’ sake, let us at least consider some of the alternatives. It is blindingly obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense that only real investment will bring about the jobs and growth that the country desperately needs. That is the only way to extricate ourselves from the double-dip recession that Downing street has inflicted on the nation.
Labour has said it from day one; more and more political and economic commentators are saying it; and the public realise it too; it is only the stubborn, dogmatic attitude of this supercilious Tory-led Government that is holding Britain back. Unlike Labour’s five-point plan, the Bill is not joined up, is not part of a bigger picture and will not go anywhere near far enough to fix our economy. It is another example of the Government flattering to deceive, rather than delivering anything meaningful.
We need look no further than the plans to amend building regulations to facilitate the Government’s flagship green deal. It has been reported that the Prime Minister intervened to block the proposed changes, and that his intervention could prevent about 2.2 million homes from taking up the flagship green deal. And for what? So that a few more conservatories and extensions can be built with less control from local authorities. And that is supposed to drive forward construction. Do me a favour! Pardon my scepticism, but I would have rather put my
money on insulating 2.2 million homes to help Britain’s builders get back to business, than on making it easier to build a few more extensions around the country.
The Government need to restore confidence by demonstrating that they are committed to investing in the economy, rather than playing around the edges, which, sadly, is all the Bill does. Of course we need to invest in infrastructure if we are to help our economy to recover, but we need to do so with much more vim and certainly more vigour than the Bill is capable of delivering. I am not fooled by it, and British people will not be fooled by it either. Actions speak louder than words, so the Government will be judged on their ability to grow the economy. They have failed spectacularly so far, however, and I regret that the Bill will do little to reverse the damage they have already done. I hope that I am wrong, but I do not believe that I am.