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I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern the latest GDP figures from the Office for National Statistics, showing that the UK economy has now shrunk in four of the last five quarters;
believes that investment in infrastructure is vital to the economy’s short term recovery and long term prosperity;
further notes that, half way through the Government’s term of office, many of the major projects promised in the National Infrastructure Plan are yet to start work;
further notes the admission of the Deputy Prime Minister, in the House Magazine of
further believes that private sector investment has also been hit by weak demand and confidence in the UK’s flat-lining economy, and uncertainty resulting from the Treasury’s dithering, delay and lack of leadership;
welcomes the independent review of long-term infrastructure planning undertaken by Sir John Armitt;
and calls on the Government to act now to kick start the UK’s flat-lining economy by genuinely bringing forward infrastructure investment including building thousands more affordable homes.
We have secured the debate to urge the Government to take action to invest in infrastructure projects to create jobs and to boost confidence in our flagging economy, and to strengthen our productivity and competitiveness for the future. We all recognise the importance of infrastructure investment. The Prime Minister has said that
“getting construction projects off the ground is critical.”
The Chancellor agrees, saying that
“investing in Britain’s economic future is the priority of this Government” and adding that infrastructure investment was critical in
“laying the foundations for future economic success.”
It should come as no surprise that the Government’s grand rhetoric has not been matched by grand actions. Dithering without a strategy for growth, they have cut too far and too fast, choking off demand and stifling the economic recovery.
Maybe the hon. Gentleman would like to intervene again and tell me when that investment is going to happen. The reality is that so much of the investment is not happening right now when we need jobs and growth. We have lost more than 120,000 construction jobs since the Government came to power.
That intervention says it all. It is all jam tomorrow from this Government.
The last set of GDP figures demonstrate the scale of the Government’s economic failure. The economy shrank by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of last year, demonstrating once again the desperate need for a strategy for growth. Since the Chancellor’s spending review two years ago, out of the G20 economies Britain has been 18th out of 20 when it comes to economic growth—worse that the USA, worse than Canada, worse than Germany, worse than France and worse than Turkey. So much for the Prime Minister’s global race.
In the previous Parliament, I was fortunate to serve on the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government. The Committee examined why houses were not being built under the previous Government, and 400,000 planning permissions not implemented. Surely the hon. Lady ought to be looking at what is stopping building. The permissions have not been stopping. The banks were not lending under the previous Government. This is a deeply entrenched position.
House building was down 8% in 2012 and the think-tank Policy Exchange has warned that the Government could end up presiding over the lowest level of house building since the 1920s. That is the record of the hon. Lady’s Government—not one, I would imagine, that she is proud of.
The Prime Minister says that we are in a global race, but in reality we are hardly out of the starting blocks. The Chancellor has been told time and again—most recently by the International Monetary Fund—that if economic growth undershoots expectations, the Government should boost the economy with greater infrastructure spending. Well, growth has undershot and the economy is shrinking. Over two years, economic growth has been 15 times less than the Chancellor promised in 2010.
I hope that I do not excite the shadow Minister so much that she delivers her baby early. What does she think about the fact that once again the Government have kicked into the long grass the problems of congestion in air traffic in the south-east? Money could be invested in that without the need to spend any public money. Why are they kicking that into the long grass?
It is being kicked into the long grass because of weak leadership. It is desperately disappointing for businesses wanting to invest today that no decision will be made and no report published from the man charged with conducting the review until the next Parliament.
The Chancellor should take the IMF’s advice and use the March Budget to rethink the Government’s failed economic plan. We told the Government that to cut too far and too fast would hurt the economic recovery and that the country needed leadership, not warm words. That is why since the Government choked off the economic recovery we have been calling for a boost to jobs and growth by bringing forward infrastructure investment, as the last Labour Government did in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
With the Government presiding over the biggest housing crisis in a generation, was it not a mistake to cut £4 billion in affordable housing investment, leading to a 68% collapse in affordable house building, and to reject out of hand the proposal for the 4G licence money to be used to build 100,000 affordable homes, which would have added 1% to GDP and created hundreds of thousands of jobs and which was hailed by the CBI as just what the economy needed?
That is why we urged the Government, before the autumn statement, to use the money from the 4G auction to start building 100,000 new affordable homes and why we urged the Chancellor to use a tax on bank bonuses for a programme for jobs and growth, with further house building and a job guarantee for young people. But the Chancellor did not listen—[Interruption.]Clearly, the Liberal Democrats do not want to listen either. With every project delay, every investor put off and every job lost in the construction sector, we lose ground to our global competitors. With the economy flatlining and no growth over the past year, the case for action is irrefutable. We need to bring forward public investment, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, kick-start the flatlining economy and get the construction industry moving again.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the flatlining of our economy and our failure to invest is having a major impact on young people? In my constituency, there are more people out of work than there were six months ago, and long-term youth unemployment is rising.
Close to 1 million young people are out of work, and one third of them are now long-term unemployed—a waste of their potential and a waste to our economy, as we are losing out on their skills. We so desperately need that economic recovery.
There is still no sign of the Government sharing the country’s sense of urgency. Only 14% of the 576 projects listed in the Government’s infrastructure pipeline have started and just 1% of those are said to be operational. The Government’s record on infrastructure is a complete and utter shambles. Wherever we look, the strategy is failing to deliver—a perfect storm of uncertainty, incompetence and delay.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. She is talking about projects. One project that might be considered seriously is the GB freight route—the building of a dedicated rail freight line from the channel tunnel to Glasgow, linking all the industrial areas of Britain and able to take lorries on trains. Will she give that serious consideration?
I know that that is something that my hon. Friend has worked on carefully and is discussing with Ministers and shadow Ministers. It is worth looking at such a scheme.
The Government’s national infrastructure plan is well worth reading. [Interruption.] Given that even the Deputy Prime Minister says that the Government have got it wrong on infrastructure investment, one would think that the Minister of State, Home Department, Mr Browne, might listen to the debate, rather than just chuntering from a sedentary position. The national infrastructure plan exemplifies the vacuum of leadership from this Government, with more projects being kicked into the long grass. Let us take the A14, which was described by the former Transport Secretary as “a crucial strategic route” and
“a lifeline to international markets.”
Now the Treasury says that construction might just begin in 2018. The Mersey gateway, which has been highlighted as one of the world’s most important infrastructure projects, has still not had a preferred bidder announced. Today we found out that 45 winning bids for the regional growth fund—the Deputy Prime Minister’s pride and joy—have already walked away from the process, which is taking so long, with millions of pounds of public money gathering dust in Whitehall. Delay, delay, delay.
That inaction is costing jobs. The construction sector has lost 129,000 jobs since this Tory-led Government came to power. What a waste. No wonder that John Cridland, director general of the CBI, is asking the Government where the diggers on the ground are.
PFI in my constituency built three new secondary schools and helped to rebuild primary schools, as well as building Sure Start centres. I would not have wanted any of those projects not to go ahead, so I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s criticism.
It is not just independent outsiders attempting to urge the Chancellor to change course and take action or saying that change is needed. Even the Deputy Prime Minister, in what he described as a “self-critical” mood, has stated:
“I think we’ve…realised that you actually need, in order to foster a recovery, to try and mobilise as much public and private capital into infrastructure as possible.”
He did not quite get round to saying sorry for a second time, but at least he has finally stumbled upon the problem. We said that cutting infrastructure spending too far and too fast would stifle the recovery, but the Deputy Prime Minister’s brief lapse of regret came two and a half years too late. That moment of self-realisation will not help the construction worker who has already lost his job, the children waiting for their new school or the new business waiting for improved roads. We do not need mea culpas; we need the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister to change course.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he would like to explain why the Government have cut infrastructure spending by £12.8 billion over three years.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. Does she welcome the thousands of new houses being built in the Kilnwood Vale neighbourhood in my constituency, in addition to the £26 million upgrade of Three Bridges rail station and the £53 million upgrade of Gatwick rail station, and so on?
The problem is that this is just a wish list. Those things are not happening—as John Cridland says, the diggers are not on the ground. As I have said, housing investment is down 8% in just one year, and 129,000 jobs have been lost in the construction sector. I look forward to hearing Government Members explaining why they are supporting those policies.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Chinese have a five-year plan involving $1.5 trillion of investment in strategic new industry and infrastructure, and that their economy has been growing at 10% a year for 10 years. Is it not time that we took some lessons from growth economies such as China, and indeed Brazil, which is investing some $66 billion in its fiscal stimulus? Let us get on with it.
The economic and political system in China is a bit different from that of the UK, but what we must learn from other countries is that we need a proper industrial strategy if we are going to create the jobs and growth that we need, and if we are going to excel and win the global race that the Prime Minister has talked about.
Two weeks ago, at Treasury questions, the Chancellor said that I was being “creative” with the facts when I said that he was spending less than Labour planned to on infrastructure investment. He said that I was being misleading on his record on investment. He had to withdraw that slur. Channel 4’s “FactCheck” has looked into the his claims. The verdict is in, and I quote from its conclusion:
“Latest figures from the ONS show that Mr Osborne’s claim to have spent more on infrastructure than what Labour had planned is wrong.”
The Chancellor has refused to come to the House to put the record straight, so let us do that now. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility—which the Government set up—the Government are spending £12.8 billion less in capital investment compared with the plans they inherited from the last Labour Government. They are cutting too far and too fast. I am happy to take an intervention on that point.
The Labour Administration had a target for rail freight interchanges, and the Howbury Park project was given the go-ahead in 2007. However, no work has yet been done. Should not the Labour Government have insisted on proper investment being put into the project, which would have benefited the local area?
I have generously let the hon. Lady have another chance at intervening, but she did not explain why, in the first year of this Parliament, her Government spent £3.2 billion less than the last Labour Government planned to spend, or why, in their second year, her Government spent £2.9 billion less than the amount in the plans they inherited. Nor did she explain why, in the third year of this Parliament, they spent £6.7 billion less than we had planned. When the Chancellor says that he has matched the plans of the last Labour Government, he is just plain wrong.
In the plan set out by the last Labour Government for 2012-13, the amount was £48.4 billion. In the plan set out by this Government, it is £41.7 billion. We had a plan to halve the deficit during the course of this Parliament. This Government wanted to go further and eliminate the structural deficit in that time. The reality is that they are borrowing more than the amounts set out in the plans left by the last Labour Government. They are not borrowing it to invest in infrastructure, either. They are spending £12.8 billion less on infrastructure than the last Labour Government, but they are spending £13 billion more on social security. Why is that? It is because there are more people out of work and more people claiming tax credits as a result of this Government’s failure to get the economy growing again. They are spending £13 billion more than they had planned to on social security. Is that really what they came into power to do? No, but the reality is that their decision to cut as far and as fast as they did has choked off the economic recovery. The result has been an economy that has flatlined for two years.
This Government are lethargic in the face of a flatlining economy, and inept in the face of long-term challenges. They came in and abandoned Labour projects, such as the plans for 715 schools, in a tranche of ideologically motivated cuts. Then, having at least partly recognised their mistake, they announced a new school building programme in 2012. Progress is painfully slow, however, with work planned to start only sometime in the spring. More delay. It is simply not good enough. This is a Government without a plan for the present and without a vision for the future—[Interruption.] If any Liberal Democrats would like to intervene, I look forward to hearing from them. [Interruption.] If someone just wants to mutter from a sedentary position and does not have the guts to intervene, that is their problem, not mine. Do we have an intervention from the Liberal Democrats?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Let me point out to her that spending on PFI schemes amounts to billions and billions of pounds—as I understand it, somewhere in the region of £800 billion—and is totally unaffordable. Is it right to spend money on a hospital—[Interruption.] Opposition Members should listen. Is it right to build a hospital under a PFI scheme whereby at the end of 25 years, we will have paid for it 18 times over? It might have cost £120 million to build, but by the time it is finished it will have cost more than £2 billion. I will not agree to spending money on that basis. We should spend money in the correct manner that is affordable for the people of this country; we should not have to pay for something 18 times over. Would you buy a house and pay for it 18 times over?
I do know how the hon. Gentleman bought his house, but when I bought mine, I had a mortgage because I could not afford to buy it outright. That is why schemes such as PFI were introduced. I am not sure what school, hospital or children’s centre in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency he would prefer not to have opened during the last Labour Government. I bet a lot more of those things opened under the last Labour Government than have been opened under this Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government.
The reality is that what the Government are doing is hurting business confidence. The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce has described the Government’s plan for infrastructure as
“hot air, a complete fiction”.
I hope the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Government are not going to be able to make the repayments on their debt. We know that their triple A rating is under threat, so if this is a warning that the Government are planning on not paying their debts and the deficit back, it will be interesting news.
The CBI has warned the Government that
“businesses in Britain are looking for action and we haven’t seen any yet”.
Yesterday, the monthly index published by BDO showed that business confidence hit a 21-year low. That is the lowest level of business confidence since Norman Lamont was Chancellor and sterling was ejected from the exchange rate mechanism on Black Wednesday in 1992. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will remember that day. The Prime Minister certainly does—he was working for the Chancellor at the time. Confidence is now at those low levels again.
It is now clear: business has lost confidence in this Government, who do not have a plan for jobs or growth. It is hardly surprising, then, that the Government are failing to attract the private sector funds they need for their infrastructure investment. It is worth remembering how the Government’s plan to target £20 billion of pension funds for investment is going. Responding to a question from my hon. Friend Gordon Banks, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had to tell us that the Government were on course for just a 10th of their original target: £2 billion out of £20 billion raised.
The Government lack the policy framework to attract the long-term investment we need. Changes such as cuts to feed-in tariffs have had a detrimental impact on low-carbon investment. The CBI warned the Government that such measures have been
“damaging to business confidence, with implications not just for immediate investment decisions but for longer-term trust in government policy”.
It is no wonder that, last year, 50 companies, investors and industry bodies wrote to the Chancellor asking him to set a firm decarbonisation target for 2030 to give investors the confidence they needed. On energy policy, the Institution of Engineering and Technology has been clear in saying:
“Short-term uncertainty around UK energy policy…is very unhelpful and has the potential to… delay much-needed investment in all forms of energy infrastructure.”
According to the findings of a poll by KPMG, two thirds of businesses believe that the UK’s energy and water infrastructure is unlikely to get any better because of uncertainty about the policy framework.
From the business community, we hear resounding frustration when it comes to the Government’s infrastructure policy. The Government do not seem to understand that businesses long for certainty when attempting to grow, employ more people and build for the future. Those are the people and businesses that we need to encourage, not put off, and infrastructure is vital to that, but the Government’s ideological decision to cut infrastructure investment further and faster is hampering confidence rather than nurturing it.
Small businesses, the engines of growth, are still waiting for the Government to roll out universal broadband. The Government abandoned the commitment from the last Labour Government to provide broadband for virtually every household by 2012. When business needs this Government, they are nowhere to be found.
Fundamentally, the Government fail to understand the need for a comprehensive and long-term plan to build Britain’s infrastructure for the 21st century. That is why the Labour party has commissioned Sir John Armitt, chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, to consider how long-term infrastructure decision making, planning, delivery and finance can be radically improved. The Olympics taught us what we could achieve together as one nation. With the right leadership and the right investment, and by building consensus around the long-term projects that are essential for our energy, transport and housing needs, we can compete globally, with a national infrastructure that is fit for the 21st century. Labour is therefore making the case for a British investment bank, which would help to support long-term finance for British businesses so that they could take risks and grow. That is especially urgent given that net lending to businesses has fallen by a staggering £13.5 billion over the last year.
Investing in infrastructure is about more than the tarmac on our roads or the bricks that make up our schools. It is about creating skilled jobs for our youngsters. It is about supporting the entrepreneurs who want to export and grow their businesses. It is about ensuring we can grow and operate across the globe. It is about attracting investment from abroad. It is about being ambitious in the face of challenges, and attempting to build a better country for the next generation.
The Prime Minister said in his new year address:
“This is, quite simply, a government in a hurry. And there’s a reason for that. Britain is in a global race to succeed today.”
Whichever way we look at it, however, this Government do not seem to be in a hurry to invest in our country’s infrastructure. Indeed, as I said earlier, they are spending £12.8 billion less on capital investment than the amount specified in the plans that they inherited from the last Government, which amounts to an 8% cut. A Government in a hurry? Hardly. Inertia is the watchword of this Government, at a time when what we need is action.
When other countries are investing in their infrastructure, aware of the benefits, this Government dither. On infrastructure, as on so much else, the country needs decisive leadership. Instead, we get incompetence, delay and cuts. It is time that we changed course.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“notes that the previous administration’s final Budget planned to cut capital investment by 6 per cent more than this Government’s latest plans, in the period 2010 to 2014;
further notes that this Government has increased capital plans by £20 billion at the Spending Review and at the last two Autumn Statements, by taking tough but necessary decisions to cut current spending, with a result that public investment as a share of GDP will be higher on average over this Parliament than it was under the previous administration;
further notes that this Government announced £5.5 billion of extra infrastructure investment in the last Autumn Statement, including £1.5 billion for roads, £1 billion for new schools, £900 million for science and £1.8 billion for housing and local infrastructure;
further notes that it has supported the largest investment in the railways since Victorian times under the High Level Output Specification;
further notes that no national infrastructure plan existed under the previous administration whereas this Government has set out for the first time a multi-year long-term strategy for the UK’s infrastructure, with over 50 per cent of the Government’s top 40 projects and programmes due to be in construction, procurement or completed by the end of 2014-15;
and believes that sweeping away red tape and developing new finance initiatives such as the UK Guarantees Scheme will also support up to £40 billion of extra important projects”.
I listened attentively to Rachel Reeves, but there is little that can be said by Labour Members that should not start with an apology. Infrastructure, more than most issues, is an area of policy in which the present is haunted by the decisions of the past. By their very nature, major infrastructure projects must be planned years in advance, capital spending budgets must be allocated years in advance and private sector investment must be secured years in advance. All those things require a Government who can look ahead, anticipate the needs of the future, and make the necessary decisions in a timely fashion.
Plans do need to be made for the future, so why did the Government cancel the building of 715 schools under the Building Schools for the Future scheme when they came to power?
I should have thought that in two and a half years the hon. Lady would have learned the lesson from that. The deficit that Labour was running was greater than the deficit in any other G7 country. We needed to sort that out, and to create confidence in our economy. If Labour Members have not learned the lesson after two and a half years, what hope is there for the future?
The economic arguments advanced from the Opposition Benches sometimes purport to draw on the wisdom of John Maynard Keynes, but Keynes recommended that Governments should run a surplus in the good times, enabling spending, especially on infrastructure, to take place in the lean years.
In the years prior to the financial crisis the previous Government ran the biggest structural deficit in the G7. Despite the denials of the shadow Chancellor, that is a matter of record, and the fact that he refuses to acknowledge what has now been made very clear merits an apology.
One of the most enduring mysteries of the 13 years in which Labour was in office is what they did with the money. We would think that 13 years in which they spent, taxed and borrowed like no peacetime Government before would at least have left us with an infrastructure that we could have been proud of and that would have been world-beating.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the almost 30 million jobs we now have in this country will benefit enormously from the fact that we are at last getting something done about broadband, a massively important infrastructure project? We are spending a huge amount on it, and just this week I heard about how much progress we are making in Gloucestershire.
My hon. Friend is right. Not just in our cities, but also in our rural areas, during Labour’s 13 years in office broadband went backwards relative to the rest of the world. We are now addressing that and making progress.
Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that during much of the Labour Government’s period in office a good deal of debt was repaid? That was one of the things that was done, and in my constituency people can point to new schools and new buildings, so there is something to be seen. Is that not the case in his constituency?
The hon. Lady seems to be unaware of the fact that under the last Labour Government the national debt almost trebled. That is the legacy that they left and with which this Government are dealing. Over 13 years, they borrowed so much they left us with a deficit that was as big as that of Greece, and bigger than that of Spain, Portugal or Italy.
We would think that there would be something to show for all that money spent. We would think our roads, railways and power stations would be at least as good as those of Spain, Portugal and Italy. That, at least, would be a consolation prize: modern, up-to-date national infrastructure available to support British business and help us to generate the billions of pounds we need to pay off the deficit and reduce our debts.
I have never heard such an absurd statement in this Chamber. Of course the increase in the debt in the last two years of the Labour Government did not produce new roads; that is because it went into supporting the banks, and if we had not done that, we would have had a banking collapse.
The hon. Lady did not hear what I said. The structural deficit the Labour Government ran was in place before the financial crisis. That is the root of the problems we now face.
I do not for a moment want to suggest those 13 years did not result in a transformation of Britain’s position in respect of infrastructure. It was transformed, all right: the quality of our infrastructure declined in relation to that of our world competitors.
Will the right hon. Gentleman address the issue of rail and tell the House what his party did about High Speed 1 and Crossrail when it was in government? Will he congratulate the last Government on completing HS1—the first new high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel, some 15 years after the channel tunnel was opened—and on starting the Crossrail scheme, which is essential to the future of London? How can he possibly repudiate that record of achievement?
That was a good example of cross-party support, and the idea that it was some unilateral initiative by the Labour party is for the birds. We should have been more ambitious; we should have gone further and faster. It will be 15 years before we can count on the first trains running on High Speed 2. Why were those plans not advanced by the previous Government from the beginning? After 13 years we could have been looking forward to seeing progress in a couple of years’ time, rather than waiting for this Government to lay the necessary legislation.
Perhaps I can answer the Minister’s question. The investment that the previous Labour Government put into the west coast main line was swallowing up money that could have been spent elsewhere. He is right about investment in schools, hospitals and so on, but will he tell the House what the previous Conservative Government’s idea was for funding capital projects? Am I correct in saying that it was private finance initiatives—millions spent but not a brick laid?
It is not clear to me whether the hon. Gentleman is criticising PFI. If PFI was initiated by the previous Conservative Government, the champion of it—the party that relied on it and put it off balance sheet, and that misused it and mortgaged the future of our country—was clearly the Labour party.
After 13 years of the Labour Government our roads were more congested, our railways were creaking, house building was at its lowest level since the 1920s and electricity customers were facing black-outs for the first time since before the war. Our great cities were as poorly connected as they had been a century earlier, while across Europe and the world, new roads and railways brought cities together in 21st-century networks of prosperity. As the excellent report published recently by the London School of Economics states,
“infrastructure has been neglected, particularly in the areas of transport and energy. For example, more than a fifth of the UK’s electricity-generating capacity will go out of commission over the next decade and Ofgem…has warned of power shortages by 2015.”
That is the reflection after 13 years of neglect of Britain’s infrastructure.
I hope to find a bit of common ground with the Minister. He knows that local authority borrowing is covered by prudential guidelines, apart from borrowing for house building, which is covered by a separate cap imposed by the Treasury. Given that housing finance accounts are now separate, if a local authority were allowed to borrow up to the prudential limits for house building, it could potentially borrow to build another 60,000 homes without any cost to the Treasury. In other countries, that would not even count as Government borrowing. Is the Minister prepared to look at that as one way of kick-starting house building and creating more jobs in the construction industry?
The hon. Gentleman knows that it does count as Government borrowing in this country, which constrains this Government as it did the previous Government. Being a fair man he will be the first to acknowledge that the work I have been doing with our eight core cities has found innovative ways through tax increment financing and other schemes to invest in infrastructure in anticipation of some of the revenues associated with that. We are doing everything we can and have had some success in being creative in that regard.
As Europe and the developing world streaked ahead, the gulf in this country between London and the north widened under Labour. Only one of the eight largest cities outside London has an income per head that is above the country’s national average, which is in marked contrast to the norm on the continent of Europe. Seven out of the eight biggest German cities outside Berlin, and six out of the eight biggest cities in Italy, have an income per head that is above the national average. In France, that is true for half the largest cities, and for the others the figure is close to the national average. In other countries around Europe and the world, great cities outside the capital are motors of growth and drive the local economy. In this country, the legacy of 13 years of Labour is that the gulf with the north and in our cities across the country has widened and is a source of shame.
I am sorry to correct the Minister for the second time, but the rate of growth in the north-east went from being the lowest of the regions during the 1990s to the second highest during the last decade. Only two English regions grew faster than the national average under the Labour Government—London and the north-east.
I do not quite understand the basis of the hon. Lady’s intervention, because the point I was making was precisely about the gulf between the capital and our provincial cities, and she has pointed out that London streaked ahead. By contrast, in other countries the performance of the regional economy kept pace with the capital, and that is something I want to champion; I want to encourage our provincial cities to be the equal of the capital on growth. I know she will recognise that in the past two years, at least, the performance of my native north-east, the place she represents, has indeed outstripped the rest of the country on creating jobs.
On the basis of what the Minister has said, does he agree that Wales should get its fair share of the High Speed 2 investment? It will run from the south to the north of England at a cost of £33 billion, and our fair share would be about £1.9 billion. On the basis of what he has just said, does he not agree that Wales needs a fair deal and that extra £2 billion?
The hon. Gentleman is a fair man. He will know that the plans to electrify the Great Western railway and the railways in the valleys represent an important investment—I am sure he would acknowledge that—and a big contribution to the economic revival of Wales. It is very important that they should do that.
The divergence between London and the south-east, and the rest of the country is not a record of which to be proud. In the most difficult of circumstances, this Government are having to find the money to build the infrastructure that should already have been put in place during these years of plenty, speeding Britain to recovery. By failing to control current spending in the good times, the legacy of the previous Labour Government was not just a record deficit, but an infrastructure backlog and reduced capital budgets to pay for it. We need to invest more in infrastructure. Nick Pearce, of Labour’s favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, has said that the
“cut…was a decision of the last Labour government which the Coalition inherited”.
We need to remember that successful infrastructure investment does not begin with the allocation of budgets, but with clear-sighted, strategic decision making.
Let me give just two examples of the way in which Labour, over 13 years, failed to address the strategic need for leadership on infrastructure, the first of which relates to roads. When Labour was first elected, John Prescott was appointed as Secretary of State and soon took charge of transport. One of his first actions was to cancel almost all approved road schemes, all across the country, including the dualling of the A21 in my constituency. The reason was not that the Government did not have the cash. I am pleased to say that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke had left the economy in rude health and so they were in a good position. These road schemes were cancelled, along with many others, because John Prescott had fallen under the spell of a doctrine that said, “If you build more roads, they will only attract more traffic, so you should not build them in the first place.”
As I have told the Minister before, Corby, in east Northamptonshire, is the most difficult place in the country for a young person to find work. The level of youth unemployment in my constituency has rocketed. Does he recognise how completely out of touch he looks to those young people when he talks about policy 15 years ago, whatever its rights and wrongs, rather than addressing the here and now? He talks about having the political will to take forward infrastructure projects. Was John Longworth wrong—I think he was right—when he said recently, speaking for the CBI, that this Government lack the political will to drive through infrastructure projects?
The hon. Gentleman will know that infrastructure is particularly important to Corby, and the link road that is to be built there is very important to that. He will also know that the increase in youth unemployment of 17% that happened under the Government he supported has contributed to the situation he describes.
Let me address the point of strategic leadership. How can we have long-term leadership and long-term vision for the future of our country, when important economic contributions to success, such as road schemes, are cancelled? That lunacy persisted for years, as our roads became more congested, to the detriment of the environment as well as the economy. It was not until years had passed that that nonsense was recanted by Lord Prescott, the then Deputy Prime Minister, and we decided that, after all, more traffic required more and better roads.
Did the Minister note that the list of needs for strategic infrastructure put forward by Rachel Reeves did not include the requirements of the location? There is no point in our having strategic infrastructure just where there happens to be a need for jobs if it is not where we strategically need to place the infrastructure. That should be crucial to our decision making.
My hon. Friend is right, and what she says makes the point I am making: a long-term strategic view of where we need to invest is crucial. Unfortunately, by the time the then Deputy Prime Minister had decided that we did need to have new roads after all, he had fallen prey to a new fad, regional assemblies—remember them? Having created those unnecessary and unwanted bureaucracies, they needed to be given something to do. What were they given to do? They were given the task of reviewing and prioritising every proposed regional road scheme that had previously been about to proceed. Projects that had been about to commence were delayed for years as regional bureaucrats invented methodologies to reprioritise them. The result was that, 13 years after Labour took office, the A21 road scheme in my constituency and countless other projects around the country languished undelivered.
The Opposition motion talks about dither and delay, which is pretty ripe stuff considering the sorry saga of their roads policy and, for that matter, their stewardship of British energy policy. In July 2009, after 12 years in office, the then Government announced that they expected to have to resort to power cuts in the years ahead. They even published a chart in their strategy for energy predicting an annual shortfall of 3,000 MWh by 2017—a truly shameful and damaging admission for the Government of a developed nation after 12 years in power.
How did things reach that point? As on the economy, when it came to infrastructure, the previous Administration took a typically ostrich-like pose to the challenges of the future. They knew for 12 years that, for example, most of our nuclear power stations and most of our polluting coal-fired power stations would have to close in the decade ahead—indeed, they signed the agreement to close down those power plants—but, unbelievably, by the time they finally made up their mind about nuclear new build, it was already too late to have the new stations up and running before the old ones closed down. How is that for dither and delay? They did not even get around to the long overdue reform of energy markets on which investment in new capacity depends. That surely is something that marks the record of Labour’s first and last Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whose name escapes me just now.
This Government have recognised the importance of infrastructure to the long-term prosperity of the British economy in a way that Labour never understood. We have published for the first time a national infrastructure plan, comprising £310 billion of investment in the most strategically important projects—keeping in mind the point my hon. Friend Mrs Main made about the importance of looking ahead and looking at where those investments are needed—in sectors such as transport, energy and communications in the period to 2015 and beyond. The man who delivered the Olympics in east London with such spectacular success, Lord Deighton, is the Minister in charge of implementing that plan.
Despite inheriting the most disastrous set of public finances that any Government have bequeathed to their successors outside wartime, we are not only investing in infrastructure, but increasing that investment. Public sector infrastructure investment from 2010 to 2012 was £33 billion a year, which is £4 billion more than during the previous Parliament, and as the National Audit Office states in its report, “Planning for economic infrastructure”:
“Future investment is expected to exceed recent levels.”
Last year’s autumn statement included a further £5.5 billion of investment, including £1.5 billion for the strategic road network. That includes upgrades to the M1, the M3, the M6 and the A60 at Immingham; £378 million to upgrade the A1 between Leeming and Barton, as part of a much needed drive to bring the A1 up to motorway standard between Newcastle and the M25; a new link between the A5 and M1; and dualling of the A30. On 27 of the road and rail schemes announced in the 2011 autumn statement either construction has already started or work is due to begin this year, including on the A453 widening, the A11 Fiveways to Thetford improvement, and the A43 Corby link road, which will be of interest to Andy Sawford.
This Government are ushering in the largest programme of investment in the railways since Victorian times, with £9.5 billion of capital investment allocated from 2014 to 2019. That includes £1 billion to electrify the Great Western line between London and south Wales, as Geraint Davies will recognise; £500 million for the north-west and trans-Pennine electrification scheme, for which work is already under way; £800 million to electrify the midland main line and increase its speed, which I would have thought the hon. Member for Corby would welcome; and £500 million for the northern hub, which is of benefit to all the cross-Pennine services.
This Government are committed to investing in Britain’s infrastructure for the long term. The first phase of High Speed 1 will be followed by phase 2, which will revolutionise rail travel in Britain, with 211 miles of new track. I am surprised that the Opposition spokesperson, a Leeds MP, did not mention in her speech a project that will link Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, create five new stations, and cut journey times from Birmingham to Leeds, for example, from two hours to one hour. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Leeds West would mention that. I should have thought that northern MPs would mention the cut in journey times from London to Manchester from two hours eight minutes to one hour eight minutes. The hon. Lady talks about the time it takes to build the track. If we had commenced in 1997, when Labour took power, we could be looking forward to buying our tickets for that railway now.
My right hon. Friend is delivering a powerful response. In his list of major infrastructure projects, he forgot to mention Reading station, an £800 million investment, and Heathrow rail at £600 million. He mentioned the £1 billion electrification project to south Wales. Will he join me in asking Rachel Reeves to apologise for her comments about Reading UTC? It was disappointing to see her laughing at such an investment in skills when I raised it earlier.
It is disappointing when the Opposition treat these things as matters of levity rather than of seriousness that should be pursued. I neglected to mention the improvements to Reading station only because if I were to list all the investments that are taking place, I would detain the House for longer than I have done already.
Had Labour in government taken a greater interest in the long-term future of our railways and of our cities and begun action immediately when it took office, we could have been looking at a high-speed line to Birmingham and beyond opening before the end of this Parliament. High-speed rail is a long-term project. It takes a long time to execute, but even in the two and a half years that this Government have been in office, we have increased the pace of delivery on the ground. As well as six national road schemes funded since October 2010, 17 local transport schemes approved by the Government are already under construction, including the Mansfield interchange, the Kingskerswell bypass and the Portsmouth northern road bridge, and by May 2015, 36 of these vital new schemes will be open.
We are changing the way that decisions are made in funding infrastructure investment. Why should it be the case, as it has been for the past 13 years, that our great cities should have to come cap in hand to London to beg for the investment that they need? Our programme of city deals has given the right of initiative back to the civic and business leaders of the cities themselves. Greater Manchester is, as a result, investing over £2 billion of its own resources in transport infrastructure, and able to do so because it has negotiated a city deal that allows it to share directly in the increased prosperity of the area that would otherwise flow to the Treasury. City deals have been struck with each of the eight biggest English cities outside London, and I am currently examining expressions of interest from 20 more cities, from Plymouth to Sunderland, from Preston to Portsmouth.
I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way. He mentions the city deals, where the cities invest and get a share of the economic added value. Is that something the Government might consider for Wales so that with investment in economic development, we could get a share back and reinvest?
There is a Government of the Welsh Assembly led by the hon. Gentleman’s party. I commend the example that we have put forward in this country. Our close working with each of the leaders of the eight cities has achieved very encouraging results to date. I dare say the hon. Gentleman can go back to Wales and commend that to his colleagues.
The way that investments can be financed has also been transformed for the better. Labour saddled future generations with PFI debts of £279 billion, of which less than £40 billion has been paid off, and which cost at least five times and often more than the original project cost of the underlying investment.
I have given way to the hon. Lady.
Our programme of infrastructure guarantees has made available £40 billion to underpin important projects, of which £10 billion of investments have already been pre-qualified only months after the initiative was begun. This will unlock vital investment, such as the £1 billion extension to the Northern line in Battersea. On energy policy, our reforms are driving investment in new capacity, not only in generation, but in energy efficiency and extraction. Our energy industry is now alive again—a new start after years of neglect under Labour.
All Governments are stewards of the country that elects them. The test of their stewardship is whether they leave their country better equipped and better prepared to prosper in the future through having taken the long-term decisions on which major infrastructure investment depends. In two short years, Britain’s reputation for infrastructure has been transformed. Having plummeted down the international league table of countries rated by their infrastructure, we are now climbing it again. The rest of the world has seen this country shaking off the torpor of the past. After more than a decade of inaction, we are once more laying the foundations of the future.
What a ragbag of complacency and distorted history we have heard. All of us will surely remember that, pre-1997, we were under a Government with problems of massive unemployment, repossessions, companies going bust and people dying as they waited for operations. The reason was that people were not working and paying tax—debt and taxes were going up and public services were being cut. From 1997 to 2008, there was an unprecedented period of economic growth, thanks to a Labour Government’s getting people back to work. People were then paying tax and the money was reinvested in jobs and public services.
In 2008, the sub-prime debt tsunami hit our shores; if it had not been for Mr Obama and my right hon. Friend Mr Brown, who invoked the fiscal stimulus, we would have gone into a world depression instead of a mild recession, which ended in 2010 with the fragile growth inherited by the coalition Government. They then wasted that opportunity by immediately announcing that half a million people in the public services would be sacked. They did not say when or who, so people stopped spending money. Consumer demand went down to the floor and since then growth has stagnated. The result, of course, is that tax revenues have fallen, debt has risen and more people are on the dole.
We hear figures that claim that more people are in jobs, but how are more people in jobs when there has been no increase in production? The simple answer is that people who used to be in full-time jobs now have two part-time jobs. The situation is a complete mess. The amount of infrastructure investment was cut in the first two years of the Government. There are proposals for more infrastructure investment, which I want, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating—we will believe it when it comes.
I want to make a couple of quick comments about my own area. It is my firm contention that Wales should get its fair share of HS2—£1.9 billion. I welcome the electrification to Swansea, which has been mentioned. I am also interested in city regions and more investment in those, and I welcome those thoughts. More investment is needed in the M4 in south Wales, around Newport and Port Talbot, to speed up business, commuter and tourist flows and to spark more investment. I would like to see an evaluation, which has been promised to me by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, of the Severn bridge tolls. If the Government paid for them, would they recover the money from more income tax and lower benefits because of increased jobs? The tolls are simply a tax on trade between Wales and England.
I move swiftly on. As I said in an intervention, we should look further afield to the emerging economies, which are growing at an enormous rate. I appreciate that we do not have the Chinese political system, but we could look closely at the Chinese commitment to, and focus on, investment in research and development. Brazil has; it is investing $5.3 billion in renewable energy and biotech and becoming a world leader. China’s investment has meant that certain US and European companies that used to lead in solar power are being taken out. We need to think strategically about how to invest in both the infrastructure and the innovation agenda.
I make no apology for again mentioning Swansea, where, in a fine example of strategic investment, the European Investment Bank is investing to enable an overall investment of £250 million in a second campus at Swansea university. The university is linked up with industrial partnerships in modern manufacturing, green technology, biotech, and so on—new, cutting-edge, exportable technologies which, interestingly, are the very areas that Brazil and China are looking at.
This is not just a matter of spades in the ground, and roads and railways. I welcome roads and railways, as well as flood defences and the like, but it is also about making rational choices and investing in infrastructure alongside innovation. When we look at the migration of global companies and where they go, it is clear that it is partly about infrastructure, partly about cutting-edge research and development, and partly about markets. We need to get our mix right.
On housing, the Government need to remember that when one looks at the accounts, one needs to look at the balance sheet. If we invest in housing, then clearly we have an asset. Looking at the balance sheet and the net liabilities, we see houses as assets for the future that we need to drive down people’s rents and give them somewhere to live and the stability to work and have jobs. I encourage the Government to look at more innovative housing schemes in the United States whereby a local authority will provide the land and then a property company will come along with a shared equity and spend the money on building houses, half of which will be social housing and the other half private houses. The public sector then ends up with free council houses, an income stream from the private houses, and half the overall equity. This is also supported by pension funds for long-term rental opportunities.
There are enormous opportunities for bringing in outside capital investment from countries with surpluses, be it from oil or trade. Countries such as Qatar are looking to invest in tourism infrastructure and cultural infrastructure so that downstream, when the oil runs out, they will have alternative income streams. We should be creatively looking at that rather then saying, “Oh no, we can’t afford it.” We need to invest to increase our trajectory of economic growth, and that includes things such as schools. It is very sad that the preparatory work done by the previous Government through Building Schools for the Future was dashed, and it is now being looked at again. Investment in hospitals, keeping workers in work and keeping people in good condition, is clearly a good investment as well.
The other key strategic investment is the internet. People running companies in costly and congested London can now consider the possibility of going down a high-speed route on an electrified railway to sunny Swansea and locating there on the internet, outside the cost and congestion, helping us to spread out our economy. This is the strategic approach that we need to take, but we very much need to up our game.
I profoundly disagree with the motion, particularly what it says about “dithering” and “delay”. I am all for a bit of dithering and delay, but I would call it caution and sensible planning. I am speaking up for the environment because I want us to take a considered approach to planning as well as kick-starting our economy. Carpenters have the old adage, “Measure twice and cut once.” We should be very careful that we get our infrastructure right rather than just dashing forward and building on any old place.
The motion stresses the need to get Britain building, but we need to have a cohesive approach, not a mad dash for growth without considering local communities or what is actually needed. I am concerned that we are intrinsically entwining planning and the Treasury. I want to make sure that we are giving these matters due consideration and are not trampling over communities, historic landscapes, and, importantly, the green belt, but getting our infrastructure right and getting it in the right place.
I want the infrastructure debate to be associated with economic benefit, local regeneration and jobs, but never to lose sight of the environment. The two are intrinsically linked. Local communities need to ensure that plans are not granted in a hasty fashion just to join the ranks of unimplemented or badly located permissions. The absence of a joined-up approach to getting our infrastructure right and ensuring that there are full appraisals of alternative sites for large, private-funded proposals, such as those for rail freight interchanges, is likely to result in a developer-led scramble to see who can get their project through first, and it will often not end up on the best site for the local area or for national economic growth. That can also affect investment in other sites that may be more suitable, but which are starved of potential investment as investors are holding fire in case another rival site gets permission through the planning system.
I want to make sure that we ask where we need to deliver such infrastructure in Britain. It is obvious that large infrastructure projects can create jobs and they should, if possible, be based in those areas where there is a need for those jobs, while at the same time doing minimum harm to the environment. That would be a win-win situation for everyone.
There has been a “minded to grant” decision on a rail freight terminal in my constituency. According to the developer of the site, it will create more than 3,000 jobs, the vast majority of which will be blue collar. Such a development could—I agree with the Labour party on this—provide a considerable boost for a struggling local area if it had the work force. It would be a shot in the arm for an area that needed those jobs. In St Albans, however, we are fortunate to have an unemployment rate of just 2.5% and the vast majority of those 1,155 people are white-collar workers. In fact, we have a deficit of blue-collar workers. Beyond that, neither my constituents—some of whom would be situated 100 metres from the development—nor Hertfordshire county council want the site, we are not a regeneration area, and the site will depress our local house prices, concrete over 10% of our green belt and compromise commuter routes into London.
The site has had three refusals, but on the Friday before Christmas, there was a volte-face and the “minded to grant” decision was made. Residents were stunned, because, if we compare and contrast the situation with that of a nearby site in Upper Sundon, just a few miles north of St Albans, we will see—this may be coincidental —that it has all the supposed national benefits that I believe we should be looking for and none of the drawbacks, or very few of them. The site is located in an old quarry—it is not on the green belt—and a ready, accessible work force, who would not need to travel in an unsustainable fashion, want it. It is also on the M1, which I am pleased to say is being upgraded, as we have heard from the Government today.
The site is in the central Bedfordshire development plan and has the support of the council, which would make the planning process simple and, I hope, amicable. Luton airport is also nearby, which is also looking to expand. The site will have easy accessibility to roads and road freight. From the economic point of view, the site is located near Luton, where the most recent figures show that 5.6% of the population are unemployed, most of them blue-collar workers.
I want to marry up those two happy coincidences, but I am concerned that the prevailing mood—driven by the Opposition in particular—is that, in the name of economic necessity, we must give permission to build at whatever cost. [Interruption.] Rachel Reeves would not let me intervene when I wanted to ask her whether she agreed—
Of course infrastructure investment should be in the right place, but there is no risk of any infrastructure under this Government. That is the problem that we have been trying to highlight today, and the hon. Lady seems to welcome that lack of investment.
I point out to the hon. Lady that in 2007, under her Government, the Infrastructure Planning Commission granted the decision to build Howbery park, against much opposition from local residents, on the green belt, on the basis that the Strategic Rail Authority said that it should be situated just about there. However, not a shovel has been turned on that development —the previous Government did nothing about it. I do not see why we should not have a strict rule that infrastructure must be placed exactly where it is needed, not where a developer happens to want it, which may lead to a situation such as that in Alconbury, which ended up with the Trojan horse of a business development park because it never got the rail links it was promised. That is not what we should be doing with our infrastructure. It should be in the right place and linked to the right work force.
If we are going to allow the development of much-needed housing, we should also look at why we have 142,000 unimplemented planning permissions that have already been granted. Across England, the figure is up to 400,000. Our priority should be to look at what has already been granted and ask why it was not built in the first place or why it was not built according to the planning permission that was granted to it, as in the case of Alconbury. If we do not make sure that infrastructure is correctly located, future generations will judge whether we had proper stewardship of our countryside.
We should examine historical permissions, both for large-scale infrastructure developments and large housing developments, that have not come to fruition. We must not just speed up the planning process and churn out more permissions that can be banked for five years, because that does not help the economy by ensuring that development happens where there is economic need and where there are people who can take up the job opportunities that are created.
A clear-sighted strategic decision-making process that was more “steady as she goes” would give investors confidence that they would not end up with permissions granted but never see the developments delivered properly in the way that was envisaged. If people want to get involved in strategic rail, there are many spin-offs such as people working on the site and promises of additional infrastructure upgrades to support the development. However, all those things fail if the developer never puts a spade in the ground and does not deliver the site as it was envisaged. All the potential jobs that are linked to such planning permissions never actually happen.
That has happened under previous Governments, and not only the last Government. However, the Opposition are now arguing that we should rush through more planning permissions and accuse this Government of dithering. I ask the Treasury to please be a bit more cautious and not to do what the previous Government did in allowing loads of permissions to be granted that never deliver what they should deliver. We should consider applications slowly, cautiously and carefully to ensure that instead of a developer pushing the area where he would like to build, developments are built where we want them to be built and where communities want them to be built. That would be in the best interests of this country as a whole.
To return to the site in St Albans, it will not benefit my constituency one jot to have a rail freight interchange. It would probably benefit Sundon quarry and the surrounding area because of the jobs that it would create, but it would not benefit my constituency if it happened in Radlett. I hope sincerely that the “minded to grant” decision is suddenly reversed to match the original three refusals, because those refusals were sensible. Two of them came under the previous Government, so I hope that Labour Members would approve of them as well. The harm that will be done by that development certainly does not justify its going ahead, especially where an authority slightly further up the road would like to have such development, very much as Geraint Davies said his area would.
We should encourage development to go where communities would welcome it, and where it fits in with our with our bigger, broader strategic plan for the economy of this country.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves on bringing forward this debate on what the Opposition know to be an incredibly important and urgent issue.
I disagree fundamentally with Mrs Main when she says that we need to go slowly in bringing forward infrastructure in this country. Given the desperate state of our economy and the number of people who are desperately looking for work, we need a great deal of urgency from the Government, particularly given their appalling record over the past two and a half years.
It was interesting that the Financial Secretary chose to speak mainly about policies from the past. Most of his speech was actually about the last century. Some of the people who are now suffering, such as those who want school places in my constituency while the Government are failing to bring forward infrastructure investment, were not even born at the time of the decisions that he talked about.
The Financial Secretary took on the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, in particular. I was at the opening of the new St Pancras station when John Prescott was praised by Lord Heseltine for his fantastic contribution to ensuring that the channel tunnel rail link went ahead and that that fantastic building was saved for the nation. The many people who arrived at that station ahead of the Olympics saw what we can do in this country when we commit ourselves to major infrastructure projects. I agree with the CBI and the many other people, including some of the economists who previously endorsed this Government’s plans, who say that this Government lack the political will to take forward major infrastructure projects.
When people get on the train at St Pancras, which John Prescott and the last Labour Government did so much to make possible, they can now come to Corby and see the new railway station that has been built there. If the Minister tells any one of the commuters or the people who use that line for leisure day in and day out that the last Labour Government did not do enough to improve rail services in my constituency, they will laugh him out of town on the next train.
We want to do more and to go further. We want to have northbound routes on that railway line. The other week, the Government made an announcement that was typical of their infrastructure announcements. They said that they were going to electrify the midland main line with £1 billion of expenditure. However, the figure was exactly the same as the amount of money they disastrously took out of the plans for infrastructure spending to which the previous Government had committed in this Parliament. They give us jam tomorrow.
Earlier, the Economic Secretary whispered to the Financial Secretary about the improvement to the A43 in my constituency. Ministers talk about that proudly, but nobody was fooled when that announcement was made—it was just weeks before a by-election. I was surprised there was no announcement today of an Eastleigh bypass or orbital route, a south coast Hampshire link road or some other such potential bribe. Perhaps the coalition parties cannot agree on what appropriate bribe to give.
Labour can give hope to the people of Eastleigh because we have a plan—a five-point plan for jobs and growth. We have talked—[Interruption.] You can laugh.
Some young people from my constituency were here yesterday to learn about parliamentary etiquette —I should have taken more tips, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the Financial Secretary had laughed in front of those young people when I talked about the desperate need to invest in jobs and growth in this country, they would have given him very little credit indeed.
There is a fanciful picture of how the Labour Government did not invest in infrastructure, but hon. Members should come to Corby and east Northamptonshire and drive past the schools that were built there, such as the brand new Kingswood school, which is a fantastic facility. My nieces get a fantastic education at the Corby business academy—[Interruption.] The Economic Secretary says that we will pay for those projects, but a combination of funding from the public and private sector—[Interruption.] He should listen to bodies such as the Monetary Policy Committee, which says that we need to find ways of investing in infrastructure in this country.
No, I am not going to mention Eastleigh at all. Hon. Members are interested in the hon. Gentleman’s point on PFI—[Interruption.] No, he was talking about new colleges. Will he tell us when those massive infrastructure deals will be paid for? Will my grandchildren be paying for them?
The overwhelming majority of the investment in new children’s centres, schools and health improvement projects in my constituency was publicly funded. Government Members should remember that PFI was dreamt up by a previous Conservative Government, and that they did not oppose a single new school, children’s centre or hospital built by the Labour Government. If they were honest, they would have objected to them being built in the first place—or say they would close them down now. Let us have honesty on that.
My hon. Friend is right on the benefits of the new schools and children’s centres. A group of sixth-formers from Deyes high school were at an education event in the Palace earlier today. Their school building was due to be replaced under Building Schools for the Future, but they will not see it, and neither—more importantly—will their brothers and sisters. However, it would have been replaced under a Labour Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that that is the disgrace in what the current Government have done. They have cancelled the future in schools for many of our young people.
I absolutely agree. The planned rebuilding of Lodge Park school in my constituency under Building Schools for the Future was cancelled—one of the Government’s first acts. The Secretary of State for Education later apologised for his bungling and mishandling of that, but his apology means nothing to the young people whose education is suffering, or to the construction workers who otherwise would have had employment in my town. It is all part of the story of the past two years. This Government’s policies took Britain back into recession—one of only two G20 countries to go back into recession. The very people who counselled that Britain needed a plan to reduce its deficit over time—the previous Government set out a reasonable, sensible plan—are now telling the Government that they got it wrong and reduced the deficit too quickly, and that the plan has been hugely damaging to our economy. The Government’s economic arguments present a false divide between the public and private sectors. The public sector and the private sector are intimately interconnected in my constituency, as in any other. The Government create a false divide between the role of Government and Government spending and prospects for growth.
Corby and east Northamptonshire has a new railway station and new schools, and the new Tresham college building is a fantastic facility for young people. That investment helps companies such as AGI Amaray, which makes all the DVD boxes we have in our homes. It helps companies such as Tata Steel to recruit people with the skills they need. It helps innovative new start-ups such as KwikScreen—some people from that company were in Parliament yesterday and I visited them a few weeks ago—which is now selling all over the world. It helps them because we are investing in the young people they need to compete in the world. The Corby east midlands international swimming pool is an incredible investment of which the whole country can proud. The Leader of the Opposition went there with me to meet visiting international swimmers and to wonder at the facility. It is impressive to people looking to invest in the town and provides a wide range of facilities for local people, including ways of keeping them healthy, and we need a healthy population for the work force of the future.
All the good that Labour did for Corby contrasts with what is happening now. It is reasonable to contrast Government records, and important to do so when looking ahead. The slow-down in the market has had huge consequences for my community. We have one of the fastest growing populations in the country—it is set to double in the next 20 years. Little Stanion is a new development that, because the bottom dropped out of the housing market and the construction sector, has not yet reached the trigger point for the infrastructure it needs. I have talked to local people. They do not have the parks, play areas, public transport provision or the investment in schools and other facilities that they need. We need to get the economy growing. That is why, in my by-election, many people came out to vote for me on a cold, dark November evening. They voted because I made a pledge to support a jobs guarantee for young people, funded by a one-year national insurance tax break for small firms—I do not why the Government will not listen to that idea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West is absolutely right to press the Government for action to get young people back to work. There are specific projects in east Northamptonshire and Corby, such as the Chowns Mill roundabout, investment in the A45, the Rockingham northern orbital route, getting the Geddington road reopened again and broadband. The previous Government promised 2 megabit broadband for every household in my constituency by 2012, but those plans were cancelled. We are now hoping that that might happen by 2015, but it is all part of a picture for my constituents of jam tomorrow—the investment was removed just when it was most needed. The Government really should listen.
Unusually, I would like to start by thanking the Leader of the Opposition for choosing the subject of this debate, even if the text of his motion is fundamentally flawed. In the language of “Yes Minister”, it is extremely courageous of the Opposition to choose a debate on a subject on which their own record is so weak, particularly when they would have cut investment by 50% had they won the last election. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that investment in infrastructure is vital to the economy’s long-term prosperity. It is also vital that we take effective action today to address the infrastructure deficit left by the previous Government.
There is no question that poor infrastructure discourages inward investment. As Professor Dieter Helm wrote towards the end of the last Labour Government in 2009:
“Few would choose to locate in Britain because of its infrastructure”.
He went on to describe it as
“not fit for the digital age”.
Bringing our infrastructure up to a standard that businesses and residents should be able to expect is essential if we are to create the flexible and successful economy on which prosperity will depend.
One of the most damaging legacies the Government inherited was the unsustainable imbalance in the economy that had built up over previous decades. We cannot build the prosperity we need based on London and the south-east alone and we cannot unlock the potential of the whole country without the modern infrastructure that makes doing business across the country and around the world as straightforward as it can be.
The prosperity gap between the black country, part of which I represent, and the south-east grew out of control under the previous Government. Gross value added per head in Dudley and Sandwell fell from 88% of the national average in 1997 to just 74% in 2008. World-class transport infrastructure such as the HS2 scheme will play an important role in closing that gap. We need to make it as easy to do business with Frankfurt, New York and vital emerging markets from our regional cities as it is from the City of London.
Labour left a rail system rapidly approaching capacity. Network Rail forecast that the west coast main line would be completely full by 2004. The inter-city rail network would be unable to cope without the additional capacity that will provided by HS2, and I am proud that the Government are taking the bold steps necessary to take that scheme forward. Businesses thinking of locating in my constituency know that they will have regular connecting services from the three main line stations in my constituency to the HS2 terminal in Birmingham, offering fast routes to London and later to Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
I would like to make one representation to the Minister. That investment, which is so important to bringing our largest cities together, must be complemented by a new focus on the importance of our regional airports. Whatever the rights and wrongs over the debate about expanding Heathrow, there can be no doubting the benefits of making better use of existing and potential capacity at airports outside London. Building a second runway at Birmingham airport, for example, would increase spare capacity to 50 million passengers per year, creating or sustaining 50,000 jobs. Transforming Birmingham, Manchester and other regional airports into additional hub airports would transform our regional economies and relieve some of the pressure on Heathrow.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that we also need to increase the turnover and capacity of regional airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland, particularly Aldergrove, Belfast city and Londonderry airports, in order to strengthen the economy across the whole of the UK?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. We need to encourage greater use of capacity for all our regional airports, as part of the vital effort to rebalance the British economy in the way I described.
Transport infrastructure is not only vital to business, but essential to people’s everyday lives. As the Minister said, the previous Government explicitly set out to price people out of their cars in order to reduce demand for investment in road infrastructure. Instead, we need to look at how we can make our roads better. My constituents are pleased that the Government are investing more in local roads through the highways maintenance block grant to councils. Unfortunately, Labour’s record in local government highlights the hypocrisy of the Opposition’s motion. People in Dudley borough have benefited from £2 million of additional investment in local road maintenance. Unfortunately, the new Labour administration is cutting the road maintenance budget by the same amount, pound for pound, as the additional funding from the Department for Transport. Labour in local government has shown time and again that, as far as it is concerned, infrastructure spending is a very low priority, but residents know that we cannot build a strong local economy with third-rate local infrastructure.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman understands that some of the cuts that local government is delivering might well be the result of the 50% cash reduction that most authorities are experiencing over the comprehensive spending review period.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the decisions taken by local authorities are about priorities. I was giving an example from Dudley borough of a specific decision about priorities for local funding which will be greatly detrimental to local residents.
I welcome this Government’s commitment to effective and efficient investment in vital infrastructure at a time when finances are constrained by the need to tackle the record deficits built up by their predecessors. Using Government guarantees to leverage private investment is a prudent use of public funds, whereas overuse of PFI has left taxpayers paying over the odds for capital schemes, as has been described in this debate.
The Chancellor’s announcement of the new PF2 scheme in the autumn statement was badly needed. We must restore people’s confidence that public money allocated for infrastructure is being spent on roads, schools and hospitals, rather than on swelling contractors’ profits. My constituents were particularly pleased that the proposed new Midland Metropolitan hospital in Sandwell was cited as the first candidate for the new scheme in the NHS. The local hospitals trust has been working hard with the Department of Health and the Treasury to ensure that those plans progress. I hope that my constituents can look forward to further good news shortly. Such investment would not only undoubtedly stimulate local economic activity in the short term, but provide a valuable new facility, providing better services more efficiently for years to come.
I believe that the Government are taking the necessary and tough decisions to invest for the long term in Britain’s infrastructure in order to make up the gap and the deficit left by the previous Government.
I draw attention at the outset to my interests as declared in the register.
This has been a curious debate to date. Infrastructure is, at least in theory, a subject on which there is a large measure of cross-party support. There is general agreement across the House that we need to ensure that we have the transport networks, power arrangements, waste and water distribution systems, sewerage systems, flood protection systems and all the other necessary infrastructure that is essential to a modern, functioning economy. Really, we should have been debating how to make a reality of the current investment programmes to deliver the kind of infrastructure that is essential to our economic well-being in the longer term and, in the short term, that will help to create jobs, employment and growth in our stuttering economy.
However, we did not do that. Instead, we have seen a series of differences—not just across the House, between the Minister and my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves on our Front Bench, but between the Minister and his Back-Bench colleague, Mrs Main, who took a very different view from him. Rather than echoing his stated wish that infrastructure investment should be speeded up, she made a fairly passionate case for slowing it down.
The right hon. Gentleman will see clearly that I talked about the strategic rail freight interchange in my constituency. More to the point, I am sure he would agree that these issues—whether waste disposal or otherwise—cause tensions in communities and that harm to the environment has to be weighed in the balance against development.
I put it to the hon. Lady that when she reads Hansard tomorrow, she will see some pretty clear references to going slowly and not following the advice of her Front-Bench colleague, who wants to accelerate development. He has not been very successful in doing that, but at least his heart is in the right place, and I am with him on that.
The Minister chose to present a case that was, frankly, absurdly partisan—perhaps to divert attention away from his difficulties with his own party, which does not always share his enthusiasm for speeding up the development of infrastructure. The implication that there was no worthwhile infrastructure investment under the previous Government and that the arrival of the current Government has unleashed a cornucopia of new infrastructure schemes is, frankly, risible.
Let us look at the record. I tried in my intervention to point out to the Minister that it was completely unfair to say that there had be no worthwhile investment, particularly in rail, under the previous Government. Let us look at the history of High Speed 1, the link between the channel tunnel and London. That link was not constructed when the channel tunnel was built, because the then Government, headed by Baroness Thatcher, did not believe in rail investment. The French did, and there was a high-speed link between the tunnel and Paris. The Belgians did, and there was a high-speed link between the tunnel and Brussels. But there was no high-speed link between the tunnel and London because the then Conservative Government did not believe in it. Eventually, the Major Government had a last-minute change of heart and began to recognise the importance of such a link, but they could not get it together and the scheme was in a state of financial uncertainty when the Labour Government came into power. The Minister is a fair-minded man, and I hope that he will recognise that High Speed 1, an important piece of infrastructure investment, was the achievement of the last Labour Government.
I would also like to remind the Minister about Crossrail. The scheme had been talked about for a very long time, since the mists of antiquity, but it was the Major Government who introduced a Bill to enable it to be built. However, rather characteristically of them, their political management in this place was so poor that they entrusted the project to a hybrid Bill Committee, which rejected it. So the Bill never progressed, the infrastructure was not built and, once again, it was left to the Labour Government to introduce the Crossrail scheme, to take the Bill through Parliament and to begin the work.
I give credit to the current Government, because they have sustained the investment in the Crossrail scheme. I am glad that they have done so, but it is risible to argue that everything being done today is wonderful and that nothing good was done before. As the Minister must recognise, the Crossrail scheme was developed by the previous Government and is being carried forward by the current Government. Making a reality of such long-term investment schemes depends on that degree of cross-party consensus.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I made no criticism of Labour in that regard. In fact, I said that these were long-term decisions, and that the proposals that he has mentioned enjoyed cross- party support. My particular criticism of the previous Government was the decision of the Minister for whom he worked, now Lord Prescott, to cancel 103 out of 140 road schemes. In the spirit of bipartisanship, will he now reflect on that point and accept that that was the wrong thing to do?
Unlike the Minister, my speech is time-limited, and I have now given way twice. I cannot do so again, so I hope he will bear with me.
I want to take the Minister to task once more—I might give way to him again at that point, as this is a new subject—over the national infrastructure plan. The Government’s amendment to the motion is based on the absurd proposition that the national infrastructure plan is entirely the product of the current Government and that no such plan existed under the previous Government. He will know very well that Infrastructure UK was set up by the previous Government, and that all the preparatory work for the national infrastructure plan was done under that Government. That is why his Government were able to publish the national infrastructure plan in October 2010. If he thinks about it, he will realise that it would have been completely impossible to put together and publish the plan within four months or so of his party coming into government.
The national infrastructure plan was a bipartisan achievement, and I hope that we can continue this debate in a more mature spirit, and recognise that cross-party agreement is essential if we are to get the real infrastructure investment that we need and if we are to do this properly without the kind of problems that we have encountered too often in the past as a result of the failings of all Governments of all complexions.
I should also like to focus on the ambivalence that exists in relation to whether housing constitutes infrastructure. The national infrastructure plan does not define housing as infrastructure, but the Government have made provision in their Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 for £10 billion of support for investment in housing schemes. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on whether infrastructure should be defined so as to embrace housing and, if so, how quickly he thinks housing might benefit from that Act.
Last summer, Lord Sassoon, who was then the responsible Minister, talked about £40 billion-worth of schemes that were shovel ready—all ready to go—in the autumn. We are now well past the autumn and to the best of my knowledge not a single housing scheme has been given the go-ahead. Indeed, we have got to the point only of defining the criteria by which schemes may be assessed. This does not look like speedy progress. I would welcome some clarity from the Minister on when he expects that financial support mechanism to have any impact in the housing sector, which is facing a terrible problem of undersupply.
I personally believe that it is impossible to consider infrastructure without including housing, because accommodation is needed for people just as much they need the roads or rail for access, the power supply and all the other things essential for economic development. I would therefore include provision for housing within infrastructure development. I would do so particularly at the moment because the output of housing is appalling. In the last 12 months, only 98,000 housing starts were made. I put it to the Minister, who was critical of the previous Government’s failure in this respect, that if he goes back to 2007—the last year before the recession hit—we started 185,000 homes. If his Government get anywhere near the level of output of the previous Government, they will be doing very well. They are not there at the moment; they need to go very much further and rather faster than they have. I hope they will think about how this scheme can be used to stimulate housing development.
The one other area I want to touch on is aviation. The Minister was interestingly coy about aviation. We know perfectly well—we are constantly reminded of it, not least by the Mayor of London, who I believe is of the same party as the right hon. Gentleman—that there is a chronic problem of undercapacity for aviation in London and the south-east, and an urgent need for new investment. There are and will be differences about where we believe this increase in capacity should be located. I believe that the Thames estuary is the right location and I have advocated that for a long time—I am with the Mayor on that. Other people believe that Heathrow should be expanded, while others believe Stansted is the right location. But no one who has looked at this seriously believes that we do not need to expand capacity. What have the Government done? Kicked it into touch until after the next general election. That is simply not an adequate response. I put it to the Minister that the Government will have to be more serious and should approach this issue on a more cross-party basis if we really are to get progress in infrastructure investment, which is essential to us.
Order. I am sorry, but in order to accommodate remaining colleagues, it is necessary to reduce the time limit on Back-Bench speeches to six minutes with immediate effect. Apologies, but that has to be done.
Given the new time limit and the scope of the Government’s activities in the infrastructure field, I shall limit my remarks to the rail sector.
It is pleasure to follow Mr Raynsford. I must say, however, that the second most absurd comment in his speech—after the one about the Thames estuary airport—was when he invited the Minister to recognise that HS1 was the achievement of the last Labour Government. I thought he was about to make an appeal by saying that infrastructure was a long-term thing and that both parties had been involved in it, but no. Perhaps even more striking was the comment of Andy Sawford, when he said that we had Lord Prescott to thank for the preservation of the wonderful façade of St Pancras station. That might have been news to the late Sir John Betjeman.
HS1 certainly has better branding than the channel tunnel rail link, and I congratulate Labour Members on that, but the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act was passed in 1996, and it included outline planning permission. The then Government decided as part of that to have the station at Ebbsfleet, and very serious redevelopment in north Kent flowed from that. HS1 cuts through my constituency and there was significant opposition to it at the time. To a degree, the community’s view of it has settled down; certainly the noise and interference from those trains has not been as great as I feared. We have very significant benefits from having Ebbsfleet, and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich should recognise the cross-party impetus that was behind HS1.
As for HS2, Opposition Members have spoken of it as it were just some little add-on. We have heard that great things are being done in Brazil; some project worth about £5 billion has been mentioned. However, the scope, scale and ambition of the HS2 project, and the vision shown by the Chancellor in driving forward that project from his time in opposition until now—despite the state of the public finances that we were left—are hugely impressive. That £35 billion project is basically inventing a high-speed rail network for this country.
Opposition Members complain that trains will not stop in certain places or will not go to others, but the fact is that even places that will not be on the new line and will not be given new stations will gain significant benefits from HS2. I am thinking particularly of the link that will go all the way to Wigan, the link that will go almost as far as York, and the link that will allow trains to come on from Crewe. All those will provide huge benefits for Newcastle, Liverpool and Scotland, which, as with cities actually on the network, will see substantial reductions in travel times. The Government deserve to be given a measure of credit by Opposition Members for pushing ahead with HS2, particularly given the finances with which we were left.
I am happy to give credit to the Opposition when it comes to Crossrail, and I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman give credit to us for keeping it. I think that particular credit is due to us in view of the financial circumstances in which we have proceeded with Crossrail. If he will do me the courtesy of allowing me to visit his constituency on
A Crossrail spur from Stratford to Stansted could serve as a tribute to, and be a legacy of, the current Government. We are seeking to have infrastructure projects that can be proceeded with quickly. The Davies commission is due to report in 2015, but an interim report is expected this year, which will consider how existing runway capacity in the south-east can be better used. The single best answer to that must be Stansted, because it has one runway which is only half used. It has the capacity for a further 18 million passenger movements per year, but it does not have good links with central London. If we had the Crossrail spur, it would.
The former aviation Minister Steve Norris is doing fantastic work in promoting that idea. He proposes a six-mile tunnel from Stratford to Fairlop Waters, and for the railway to run along the M11 all the way to Stansted. As a result, the journey from Stansted to Liverpool Street would take only 23 minutes, and it would take only half an hour to travel to the west end or to Ebbsfleet. What a legacy for the Government that would be! What better way could we find of kick-starting the construction industry? I would expect the Liberal Democrats to support it: they may not want any new runways ever to be built in the south-east, but at least they believe in improved rail connections, and they are working with the Conservatives to deliver that.
I hope that Treasury Ministers will allow Steve Norris, and perhaps my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith and me, to put the case to them. I think that it would be more than a short-term—perhaps a longer-term—solution to the aviation issue.
My hon. Friend is advancing a powerful argument for the joined-up thinking that I stressed in my speech. I hope that he continues with it, because the more we can marry areas that want development with the benefits that result from it, the better the position will be for all concerned.
I think that the Stansted Crossrail spur could provide an answer to that, from not just a local but a regional and a national perspective.
I was sorry to learn that my hon. Friend, for whom I have great respect, was encountering a difficulty in regard to the freight terminal that is planned for the lovely area of Radlett. In my constituency, the infrastructure is being put where we want it. Only last month, the Government announced that we were to be given a brand new railway station in Rochester, which will be built exactly where we want regeneration to happen, in the area around Rochester Riverside. It will hugely assist us in making the case to developers, and in encouraging people to visit and to move to Rochester. It will improve the transport times to London, it will be immediately open to the whole of Rochester high street, and it will link the high street with the regeneration area. This Government have worked very closely with Medway council, through Network Rail, to get this announcement and to get these funds, for which I am very grateful.
I agree. I am a localist in these matters. I had the privilege to serve under the Financial Secretary when he ran the Conservative party’s policy unit, and he probably did more than any single person in our party to push that localist agenda. What he has achieved in planning, and in getting agreement for a planning system that boosts the economy and regeneration in this country yet allows local needs to be reflected and gives proper powers to the local democratically elected councillors, has been exemplary. The more we can work to get the economy moving through investment in infrastructure where both communities and the nation want it, the better.
I ask the Financial Secretary to take this agenda forward and to look in particular at giving a further boost to the economy with an extension of Crossrail. I urge him to ensure that the Treasury, as well as the Department for Transport, looks at the case that has been made for a Crossrail spur from Stratford to Stansted.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves on securing this debate on this important issue. I want to draw the House’s attention to the Croydon tram extension—or, rather, the lack of it. That project has huge local support. It was also supported by the Mayor of London; in his re-election campaign, he came to the area twice and was photographed on the proposed tram route. I greatly regret that the scheme is now not proposed for delivery, the cause of which is an unhappy combination of a Tory Mayor of London and a Tory-led Government abandoning a major infrastructure project that had huge regenerative potential for areas including Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace in my constituency. The constituency has extremely high, and growing, youth unemployment. That was a huge issue in the by-election at which I was elected. I would very much like all parties concerned to think again about recommitting to the promise that the Mayor of London made in his re-election campaign.
Before I was elected at the end of November, one of the roles I had was chair of the Vauxhall Nine Elms strategy board. That is a fantastic project just across the river from here. It is led by local government, which the Government frequently take pleasure in denigrating and decrying. It was led by the Labour administration in Lambeth and the Conservative administration in Wandsworth, acting together with private sector partners to create a regeneration project that is bigger than the Olympics in the heart of London. It will be the single biggest generator of new homes in the entire country, delivering about 16,000 new homes and creating about 20,000 new jobs, as well as the Northern line extension.
I am surprised by how frequently we hear the Government taking credit for that scheme. Indeed, the Chancellor did so in both of the last two autumn statements. There is no Government money of any note going into this scheme, however. It is not a Government project—although I give them credit for underwriting it—and all the parties involved would be pleased if they would stop trying to take credit for something they are not doing.
Although the Government are pleased to talk up that excellent and vital infrastructure project, their planning reform proposals will slow it down. A number of schemes with permissions in place are ready to go, but the Government have now told the developers that if they delay implementation, they may be able to reduce or remove some of the social housing requirements. Therefore, as a result of Government intervention, we are looking at fewer affordable homes at a time of record homelessness, and the delay of planned jobs at a time of record unemployment, none of which makes sense.
As a Member of this House I am also privileged to be a member of the Public Administration Committee, which is currently conducting an inquiry into Government procurement. While taking evidence, the Committee has repeatedly been told that the lack of a long-term Government procurement pipeline for national infrastructure means that businesses are not confident, cannot plan for growth and jobs, and therefore do not invest. As a result, yes, there are more jobs—low-paid and part-time jobs—but there is no growth, and when there are more jobs but no growth there is a collapse in productivity. The confidence of business has been broken by the failure of the Government to invest, and that can only be a harbinger of further trouble for our economy.
The Government failure to invest in infrastructure is one of the key causes of their failure on jobs, growth and the economy. The Deputy Prime Minister is right to admit that the Government have got it wrong. The country needs them to change course and I commend Labour’s five-point plan as an excellent starting point.
I commend the comments of my hon. Friend Steve Reed about the unwillingness of business to invest, and the effect on jobs and growth of our lack of confidence in the economic prospects of the country, which is caused by the Government’s economic policy. That point summarised the problems and set out why this debate is crucial and why it is crucial that the Government get infrastructure investment right.
When the coalition Government were elected, one of their first acts was to cancel a number of infrastructure projects, including the Building Schools for the Future programme. Chesterfield high school in my constituency was one victim of that decision and did not receive the investment in new buildings it so badly needed. The decision also meant the end of plans for Chesterfield high school to be integrated with Crosby high school. Crosby high school is a special school, and students and staff at both schools would have benefited from the integration of special and mainstream education on the same site. Sadly, that was not to be, and hon. Members across the country will have similar examples of the impact of the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future.
When they took power the Government scrapped a number of infrastructure schemes and reviewed a number of schemes that the previous Government had already approved. On infrastructure spending, it is clear that the Government have cut investment by £12.8 billion compared with the plans of the previous Government. The Treasury identifies 574 projects worth £310 billion in the Government’s 2012 infrastructure pipeline, but just seven of those are completed or operational and they include a road scheme started under the Labour Government.
In my area, the Mersey Gateway has been described by KPMG as one of the world’s most important infrastructure projects, yet as we heard from the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, a preferred bidder has yet to be announced for that important scheme. In my constituency, the previous Labour Government gave the go-ahead for the Switch Island to Thornton relief road. That road was put on hold in May 2010 by the incoming coalition Government but reinstated after a review.
Sefton council spent considerable time and money negotiating first with the Government and then with various landowners. The road has widespread local support, as it will relieve congestion for the residents of Thornton and speed up journeys for people from Formby, Crosby, Maghull and Aintree in my constituency. It will help the economy and boost jobs and growth. It has been discussed for at least 40 years, and the news that it was to go ahead was welcomed by nearly all my constituents. There has been a marked absence of opposition to the road, partly because the consultation carried out by Sefton council was so thorough. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State decided to call in the project and hold a public inquiry.
At the cost of an inquiry, the Government have delayed a much needed piece of infrastructure, and three years later there is still no sign of building work. I am sure colleagues will know the cost of such inquiries, and the final cost of the Thornton relief road inquiry will be of great interest to my constituents. I dare say that Members across the House will know of schemes that have suffered similar delays because of how we deal with infrastructure in this country. The slow progress made on the Thornton relief road and the complete lack of progress on most of the projects in the infrastructure pipeline—the Treasury’s words, not mine—highlight an institutional delay that happens in this country and a real problem that we have on infrastructure.
Some Members have talked about consensus, and that issue must be addressed across the House, but the lack of progress, the delay in starting work and the decline in the construction industry show a much bigger problem, which lies at the heart of the economic problems in this country. The Thornton relief road is important for the economic benefits it will bring once it is built, but it is also vital because of the impact of construction on the local economy, on jobs and on the multiplier effect of infrastructure spending on the wider economy.
The lack of activity in the construction industry is a key reason why our economy has stalled since May 2010, and the fact that the construction sector has declined so much is a cause for great long-term concern, as well as concern about its short-term impact. Output in the construction industry fell by 9.3% between the end of 2011 and the end of 2012, and 129,000 jobs have been lost in construction since the Tories and Lib Dems joined forces nearly three years ago. The delay in infrastructure planning and the impact on the construction industry, on jobs and on the economy will have a long-term effect. The firms that have closed cannot just reopen, and workers who have been laid off cannot simply be re-employed. For projects such as the Thornton relief road, delay means that potential economic benefit is not realised when it is most needed, which is now.
The Government state that they want to speed up the planning process to drive economic development, yet they hold unnecessary and expensive planning inquiries, which only delay the start of projects. To listen to the Minister, one might have thought that the whole country had been turned into one big building site—how far from the truth can that be? His description of large-scale, widespread projects in road, rail and energy might have led us to believe that we have a thriving, growing economy, where the construction sector is booming. Sadly, that is just not the case. Even the Government’s own figures show what is really happening.
The case for infrastructure has been made by the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce. Unless we see those investments, we will not see the return to growth and prosperity, and the jobs that are so desperately needed. The Government need to take action now.
I found the Minister’s description of the recent history of this country totally astonishing. In my constituency, I can think immediately of a new bypass, a new further education college, a new hospital, several GP surgeries, several new schools and thousands of people who benefited from the decent homes programme under the last Labour Government. I am very concerned that this Government are not investing in the north-east as they should be. In the autumn statement of 2011, only 0.03% of the £40 billion that the Chancellor of the Exchequer switched into capital spending came to the north-east. In the autumn statement of 2012, there was an injection of £124 million, a road-widening scheme in Gateshead and some housing, which takes our share of the Government’s capital spend to an incredible 0.5%. That is an appalling waste of opportunity and potential in the north-east.
I am sorry that the Minister who opened the debate is not in his place, and I urge the Treasury to examine what the report from the Institute for Public Policy Research says about the way in which calculations for cost-benefit analysis on roads are made. The report makes it very clear that there is no level playing field between how cost-benefit analysis is carried out in sparse areas and how it is done in densely populated areas. I hope that the Treasury revisits that.
I also hope that the Treasury will examine the report from the North East chamber of commerce, which makes it clear that we have a large number of projects that would significantly improve the operation of the north-east economy. That is important, because we face the highest level of unemployment in the entire country at 9.1%. That is the short-term problem that the Government have pushed us into.
The long-term problem set out by Oxford Economics, which did some special simulations for us, is that in the 10 years from 2010, we will see a deficit of 20,000 jobs in our region. That is 20,000 lives wasted because this Government are not making intelligent decisions about investment. This Government’s infrastructure decisions are driven almost entirely by political considerations rather than economic considerations.
The Chancellor’s unstable approach to energy policy is such that we do not have a framework to enable investment in offshore wind and renewables. Those are of value in themselves and offer a significant opportunity for the north-east economy.
Another area where the Government are ignoring this country’s potential is connectedness. Since 2005, more than 7 million UK households have gone online. The explosion in internet use has had significant economic benefits: in 2010, the internet economy made up 8.3% of this country’s GDP—a higher proportion than in any country in the world. Underpinning that is the roll-out of Britain’s broadband infrastructure, but what this Government have done has almost halted the roll-out of broadband in England. The Labour Government had a plan to ensure that by 2012, 90% of the country would have access to at least a good speed of broadband, but this Government put the achievement of the target back to 2015, and last week we heard from British Telecom that it is unlikely to be achieved until 2017. That is five lost years from this Government.
We need solutions that allow the benefits of broadband to be spread as widely as possible, but what the Government are doing by failing to invest in broadband disadvantages rural communities in particular. That is extraordinary in view of the fact that both coalition parties claim to represent the countryside; neither is doing so effectively. By breaking up the large areas on which we were letting the contracts for broadband and instead adopting a policy of fragmentation by local authority area, this Government made it uneconomic for many providers to bid for the contracts; consequently, they have produced a market in which there is almost no competition. Clearly the slogan is, “Vote Tory, vote against competition.” That is not the way to develop our economy. It is really important that we move forward and have one digital nation.
I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about infrastructure in our capital city, London. The capital is about to be hit by a demographic time bomb, which seems to have taken both the Government and City hall by surprise. The Mayor’s London plan forecast that the capital’s population would be 8.5 million by 2027, but we know that that is likely to be exceeded in 2016 or earlier, and by 2031, there will be 9.5 million people living here in London. Today’s creaking infrastructure will be burdened by 1.5 million extra people.
The House has already heard the depressing detail of the housing shortage here in London, with young couples unable to save for a deposit, families of six being squashed into flats built for three, and young professionals being extorted out of more rent by their landlord and more fees by their letting agent. Less has been said about London’s transport network, which is already at breaking point and is set to be pushed over the edge. We now require the sort of vision that gave us London underground 150 years ago.
Right hon. and hon. Members will already know about the scrum to get on the tube at rush hour. How much worse will that become over the next decade, in which an additional 700,000 jobs will be located in central London? How much more congested will it be when High Speed 2 ferries even more passengers into central London terminals at peak times? For that privilege, Londoners are paying the highest transport fares in the world.
Yet these are problems that some Londoners are envious of, because parts of our capital remain islands of isolation. Even in 2013 some of my constituents are served by only one train an hour and at weekends none at all—here in our capital city, in one of the poorest wards, Northumberland Park, which has the highest unemployment, the highest levels of child poverty and the lowest levels of attainment in the country. Without transport links, such areas are starved of investment, bled of ambition and left marooned from the throbbing economic heart of the centre.
Not only is London failing its commuters and entire swathes of its suburbs, but the very status of the capital as one of the world’s greatest cities is under threat. It is not difficult to comprehend why London has been so successful. London’s triumph over the centuries is that it has constantly been open to the world as a centre for trade and finance. Today London is a magnet for some of the brightest and most innovative talents from every corner of the globe. That opportunity is being rivalled by cities such as Frankfurt and New York, and the growth in India and China.
How have the Government prepared London to meet the challenges of the next 20 years? They almost cancelled Crossrail 1. The Thameslink programme is beset by delays. They cancelled the third runway at Heathrow and kicked the search for an alternative into the long grass. They cancelled the four-tracking of the West Anglia line that would finally have provided a decent train service from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the capital. The only ambition that this Government seem to have for the capital—the only vignette of a solution to the challenges it faces—is the two-station spur of the Northern line to Battersea power station. Small increases in capacity are set to be outstripped and overwhelmed by the forecast growth in the number of commuters. Now the Government look set to drop the ball once again, this time on Crossrail 2.
The Chancellor and the Minister will have the seen the report published last week by Lord Adonis and the London First group that details the case for a new line linking the south-west of London with the north-east of London, including three stations in my constituency. As my noble Friend made clear, this is the only way that London will be able to cope with the challenges presented to it over the next 20 years; it is the only way that London will be able to handle the growing number of commuters; and it is the only way that passengers arriving in London from High Speed 2 can be efficiently dispersed from Euston station. It is the only way that we can relieve the dangerous levels of congestion on London’s major north-south tube lines—the Victoria, Piccadilly and Northern lines—the severe overcrowding that Londoners experience on mainline routes into Clapham junction and Waterloo, and the overcrowding across the tube.
Most important are the economic benefits that the proposal would bring to some of the poorest neighbourhoods in our capital. For areas such as Northumberland Park in my constituency, Edmonton,
Hackney and large parts of our capital city, we need these infrastructure projects. We need a renewed vision for transport in our city. We must have Crossrail 2, building on Crossrail 1. We need a commitment from the Minister that the Government will get on with that. We need a Bill before the next Parliament to introduce Crossrail 2 so that we can see the infrastructure here in the city, and the city can provide the economic boost to our country that is so desperately needed.
It is very important to realise that investment in infrastructure works in boosting the economy. I want to give an example from Scotland that is about investment in housing, and I will start, but not necessarily finish, by praising something that the current Scottish Government did. At the beginning of the UK Government’s term of office, they took a decision to bring forward capital spending in order to boost the economy. They put some of that spending into housing, particularly affordable housing. As a result, for a brief period, they were able to increase the proportion of spending on affordable housing.
In the spirit of generosity to other parties, will my hon. Friend also commend the coalition Government for introducing the borrowing guarantees and earmarking £10 billion for housing, classifying it categorically as infrastructure for the first time? To make her point, I should say that every £1 million of public money that goes into house building generates 11 jobs.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The spending in Scotland enabled the Scottish Government to announce that unemployment was not rising as fast as in the rest of the UK, and they took great pleasure in that. Sadly, the situation has not been maintained, and we are hearing less of how wonderful the Scottish Government are at dealing with unemployment; at present, the opposite is happening. I would argue that one of the reasons is that the investment in infrastructure, particularly in housing, has not been sustained. The figures are stark. In Scotland, there were 7,915 new affordable housing starts in 2009-10; in 2010-11, the figure fell slightly to 6,460; and in 2011-12, it fell to 3,405—a halving in less than two years.
There is a consequence for the construction industry, its employees and unemployment in Scotland. The Scottish Government showed that such investment worked, but they have not been able to sustain it. They would probably argue that that is solely because of what has been happening at the UK level—investment in housing and in capital has been falling. They would be right to some extent, although I would add that they are not particularly interested in showing that the situation can be overcome. I suggest two ways in which they could overcome it.
First, the Scottish Government could use the tax-raising powers given in 1999 as part of devolution. They have not chosen to use those, although I think people in Scotland would be prepared for them to be used if they thought that the money could be invested as it was previously. They have also put a stranglehold on local government by having a five-year council tax freeze, which has meant that local government cannot make the choice to say to its local population, “We desperately need more housing. We will put up council tax so that we can borrow”—that is perfectly possible—“and build that much-needed housing.”
So there are ways in which the Scottish Government could continue with policies that for a brief period showed that investment in infrastructure boosts the economy and employment. I urge them to go back to doing that, rather than allowing things to deteriorate so that they can always blame London; that, I am afraid, is what they tend to do.
Some of the discussion is fascinating. If someone had fallen asleep in 1997 and woken up watching this debate, they would have wondered which party was talking. Government Members want to argue, “The last Government didn’t do anything on infrastructure and when they did, it was all this horrible PFI.” I seem to recall that PFI was not a Labour Government invention, but was enthusiastically put forward by the preceding Conservative Government. I am interested to know when that conversion happened. We can get that sort of investment better, but my city is a lot better for some of the public-private partnerships that we put in place—the schools that were built and the investment that was taking place.
A lot of things seem to happen in Scotland first these days, which are then followed, not always for the better, here. In 2007 a Scottish Government of a nationalist persuasion took over, and in my city a Lib Dem-Scottish National party council took over. They both decided that they did not like public-private partnerships and so would instead come up with some magic way of creating these investments. As a result, not one new school was started in the five years of that Lib Dem-SNP administration—not one. Several were finished, and councillors were very pleased to go and open them and have their name put on the opening plaque, but those schools had been planned and funded through PPPs. We seem to have undergone a miraculous conversion at some point—I am not quite sure when—but we have not come with anything that really works in its place.
I call in support of this argument none other than the Mayor of London, who is quoted in tonight’s edition of The Evening Standard as calling for a £1.3 billion investment in housing in London. Perhaps the Government would like to listen to a mayor of their own political persuasion.
This has been a good and thoughtful debate with Members on both sides of the House illustrating how important infrastructure projects are to their constituencies, to the wider region and to UK plc as a whole.
I want to highlight some of the more memorable moments in the debate. My hon. Friend Geraint Davies summed up the Minister’s opening speech as a dismal display of dither and delay; I hope that I have paraphrased him correctly. Mrs Main gave the Government’s position away by speaking up for dither and delay and cautioning against a mad dash for growth. One could not accuse the Government of that—it is more like a mad dash for the dip.
My hon. Friend Andy Sawford spoke my mind when he expressed deep concern about the Government’s very backward-looking approach on this issue. He also made a passionate plea for more infrastructure investment in his area. My right hon. Friend Mr Raynsford spoke passionately about High Speed 1—a major achievement by Labour in government—and set out his concerns about the lack of housing investment by this Government.
Mark Reckless limited his comments to rail infrastructure. He claimed that that was because the Government’s infrastructure activities are too broad and varied, but I would argue that it is the only area they are taking any action on at all.
My hon. Friend Steve Reed raised the crucial issue of youth unemployment, which the Government, with their complacent approach, seem to overlook too often. My hon. Friend Bill Esterson recalled the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future—the decision made so rashly by the Government on taking office that has impacted not only on children but, as we now know, on economic growth.
My hon. Friend Helen Goodman talked about the lack of investment in the north-east region, with 0.05% of Government investment being the north-east’s share to date and the Government’s decisions being driven by a political rather than an economic rationale. My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy set out the desperate need for investment in London. He was seconded by my hon. Friend Sheila Gilmore, who cited the Mayor of London’s having called for much the same thing.
The majority of Members on whom I have commented are Labour Members. That is because we called this debate to raise the fundamental role that infrastructure projects could and should be playing in getting our country and our economy on the road to recovery and growth. This is an economy that has been flatlining as a result of the Government’s failing plan, that did not grow at all in the whole of 2012 and that has now shrunk in four of the past five quarters.
This country’s growth rate since the 2010 comprehensive spending review is 0.4%. On infrastructure, does my hon. Friend agree that the huge contrast between us and America, Germany and other countries that are maintaining their stimulus is highlighted by the fact that they are now above their pre-crisis peak? They are now growing by 3% or 4%, compared with the abysmal record of this Government.
Indeed. My hon. Friend makes that point very well. Infrastructure investment fell off the cliff when this Government came into power and we are seeing the economic consequences of that today. Many Members have referred to the Chancellor’s 2010 spending review. It took place in the fourth quarter of 2010 and the UK’s economy has grown by just 0.4% since then. During that time, the USA economy has grown 4.2%, Germany’s by 3.6% and France’s by 1.5%.
Our economy, however, has been stagnating for the past two years, and borrowing is now rising, not falling, as a result.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the United States strategy for the top 2% to pay more towards reflating the economy and getting 1% extra growth is a good idea and that we should not be hitting the poor to pay for debts?
This Government’s choices on spending and tax have resulted in millionaires being given a tax cut while the poorest bear the brunt. We are seeing the results of that, not just in the suffering that we see at our constituency surgeries, but in the lack of economic growth. That is why it is so disappointing—indeed, unforgiveable—that the coalition Government have been asleep at the wheel on the issue of infrastructure investment.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Does she not recall that a pledge was slipped into and hidden away in the Labour manifesto to cut capital spending—that is, infrastructure spending—by 50% had her party formed the next Government?
That shows, once again, the Government’s utter complacency and head-in-the-sand approach to this whole issue. The hon. Gentleman knows that his Government have spent £12.8 billion less on capital investment than Labour planned, so I will not take lectures on that from any Government Member.
Time and again over the past two years we have heard the Prime Minister and Chancellor expound the value of infrastructure investment in delivering growth in the economy and, crucially, creating new jobs. All the evidence shows, however, that their record is one of inaction, complacency, delay and failure to deliver, which, combined with private sector uncertainty, is having a highly damaging effect on Britain’s construction industry for one.
The much-vaunted national infrastructure plan, published back in 2011, identified 40 priority projects that the Government stated were
“of national significance and critical for growth”.
However, despite the Government’s proclaimed focus on those so-called priority areas—and, indeed, a Cabinet Committee that is supposed to be overseeing progress—we are yet to see spades in the ground for too many of those projects.
Last year’s autumn statement announced a £5.5 billion infrastructure package, but this is to be paid for by cuts to departmental spending and underspend, including capital underspends, and one third of the projects included in the package had been previously announced by the Government. Indeed, describing the 2011 infrastructure plan as
“hot air, a complete fiction”, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce urged the Government to develop
“bold leadership and some creative ideas” and to “get a grip” on this issue in order to stimulate economic growth.
The CBI’s assessment of the Government’s performance does not get any better, with its annual infrastructure survey last year finding that 73% of its members do not think that transport infrastructure will improve over the next five years and that two thirds believe that the UK’s energy and water infrastructure is unlikely to get any better. This has been damningly described by the CBI director general John Cridland as
“a wake-up call that businesses in Britain are looking for action and we haven’t seen any yet.”
Even the Deputy Prime Minister finally appeared to wake up to the importance of this issue—although a little late in the day—when he acknowledged last month that the coalition cut capital spending too deeply when it came into government. We were all desperately disappointed that the latest apology did not come via YouTube—the “I’m Sorry” infrastructure remix. We were offered this particular mea culpa via The House magazine, which he told:
“I think we’ve all realised that you actually need, in order to foster a recovery, to try and mobilise as much public and private capital into infrastructure as possible.”
Yes, that is what the Opposition have been saying all along.
In their first three years, this Tory-led Government have spent £12.8 billion less in capital investment than would have been spent under the plans inherited from Labour. That is a fall of 8%. According to the Government’s Office for Budget Responsibility, the coalition will spend £7.3 billion less on capital investment over the course of this Parliament than was planned by Labour.
This debate is not just about investment. Ensuring that infrastructure projects get off the ground and deliver jobs and growth requires the political will and determination to drive things through—something that is sadly and damagingly lacking under this Government. The economic situation in which we find ourselves requires urgent action from Government, such as that proposed in Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth, which would bring forward long-term infrastructure projects, as we did in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. That plan includes the construction of thousands of affordable homes.
We need a comprehensive long-term plan to rebuild Britain’s infrastructure for the 21st century—a long-term framework that gives investors the confidence that they need to invest consistently and that will deliver real results for the UK economy. That is why my right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor have asked Sir John Armitt, the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, to conduct a review into how long-term infrastructure decision making, planning, delivery and finance can all be improved.
As this issue is of such national significance, a cross-party consensus is required to deliver what we need. We have seen what can be achieved when we reach a consensus and plan for the long term across Parliaments and across political divides. The Olympics showcased Britain for the great country and the one nation that it is, but that was Labour’s legacy. What will be this Government’s legacy? If they are not careful, it will be dither, delay, stifled economic growth and stagnation. It is time to get a grip. The Opposition motion calls on the Government to do just that, and I commend it to the House.
I am grateful for the opportunity to conclude this debate.
I have listened with great interest to the 11 Back-Bench contributions in the Chamber this afternoon. This is clearly an issue about which many Members feel strongly. It is also an issue that Members on both sides of the House seem to agree on in many ways. Both sides want to see a UK with world-class infrastructure and both sides recognise the importance of improved infrastructure for the nation’s economic future.
However, only one party ruined the UK economy after 13 years in government, hugely damaging the UK’s ability to invest in the very infrastructure that we all care about. It was the party that tabled the motion. That same party left the UK with the largest budget deficit in the G20. [Interruption.] Labour Members say that we should look forward. It is no surprise that they want the country to look forward, because they do not want us to remember their legacy, but the country must remember. They left a budget deficit higher than 11% of GDP. They borrowed £159 billion in their last year in government—£5,000 in each and every second of that final year.
Had the previous Government not messed up the regulation of the financial sector, they would not have had to carry out the biggest banking bail-out the world has ever seen, with £65 billion being put into RBS and Lloyds alone. Imagine how much new infrastructure that money could have been invested in. As if that was not bad enough, let us not forget the decision to sell off the nation’s gold reserves at record low prices. Had they not done that, the country would have been £10 billion richer. One thing that we did not hear from a single Labour Member this afternoon was an apology for the damage that they did to this country.
Despite that toxic legacy, this Government have restored economic confidence. We have slashed the record budget deficit by a quarter. We have restored economic credibility and opened Britain up for business again. That credibility has led to record low interest rates, with the Government’s 10-year funding costs having halved since 2010. Each of those steps has been crucial to creating an economic environment in which the Government can invest in infrastructure, and one in which investors feel their funds are secure.
I direct the hon. Lady to read the OBR report, which mentions a number of reasons, not least the eurozone crisis. She might like to read that report for herself.
I should respond to the points hon. Members have raised in the debate. Many accusations were made by Opposition Members. They said that, had they won the election, they would have miraculously invested more. The reality is that, had they won the election, they would have continued borrowing recklessly, which would have led to much higher interest rates. They would probably have led this country into the hands of the International Monetary Fund once again, which seems to be their speciality.
Let us look at Labour’s March 2010 Budget. It shows that the previous Government planned to cut capital spending by 6% compared with our latest plans. In fact, in nominal terms, they planned to cut capital spending by 22% between 2010 and 2014. My hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen made a good point, which Catherine McKinnell dismissed. Let me read to her the words of David Miliband. In July 2010, he said the previous Government would have halved the share of national income going into capital spending. That is the truth, and Labour Members want to deny it.
Meanwhile, this Government have overseen an increase in total investment in infrastructure from £29 billion a year, which was the level between 2005 and 2010, to £33 billion a year between 2010 and 2012. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor unveiled a further £5.5 billion of investment, including £1.5 billion for the strategic road network.
Hon. Members are aware that the vast majority of spending needs to come from the private sector. That is why we have taken measures to target and support investment—measures such as the UK guarantee scheme, which will provide up to £40 billion of support to critical infrastructure.
In an answer last month on the guarantee scheme, the Financial Secretary told me:
“No project has been guaranteed under the UK Guarantee Scheme at this stage.”—[Hansard, 18 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 981W.]
However, in the autumn statement, the Chancellor said:
“I can today confirm a £1 billion loan and a guarantee to extend the Northern line to Battersea power station and support a new development on a similar scale to the Olympic park.”—[Hansard, 5 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 876.]
Does that not show the uncertainty and confusion at the heart of the Government’s infrastructure failures? Who is right: the Financial Secretary or the Chancellor?
The right hon. Gentleman rightly made a point earlier about the action the Government have taken to implement the guarantee scheme. Of the £40 billion of guarantees available, about £10 billion have pre-qualified but are not yet issued, and there has been an offer of a £1 billion guarantee for the Northern line extension project to Battersea. That is substantial progress since Royal Assent to the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 in October 2012.
The Government are working tirelessly to encourage further investment, not just from overseas, but from pension funds. However, the debate should not focus solely on the amount of money we secure for projects. We should also focus on how to ensure the best possible return on those investments—a point made well by my hon. Friend Mrs Main. That is why the Government are running a cost review to reduce infrastructure costs by a target 15%, and why we have reviewed and reformed PF1 and launched PF2. The Government are investing wisely, collaboratively and efficiently.
Some Labour Members would have us believe that our investment is resulting in no action. I found it strange to hear the criticism that our investment has resulted in no spades in the ground. As the Financial Secretary told us earlier, a number of projects are already up and running. For example, major flood risk infrastructure projects have been completed in Nottingham, Truro and Keswick, and four new major road projects and 16 local transport schemes are under construction.
This is a Government with a long-term strategy for infrastructure. Our national infrastructure plan—the first time a Government have set out such a plan—identifies 550 projects with a value of more than £310 billion. It has seen us publish an investment pipeline that gives certainty to investors, which is absolutely key; prioritise projects through the creation of a top 40 list; and utilise a dedicated Cabinet committee to ensure infrastructure delivery. The Opposition motion alludes to Sir John Armitt’s review into long-term infrastructure. Given the important and valuable role he played in the Olympics, I am sure it will be an interesting read and I will look at his recommendations. I am also sure that his advice will be considered, balanced and politically neutral. I would be very surprised if it were influenced by the shadow Chancellor in any way.
We have recently appointed our own Olympic expert to the role of Commercial Secretary. Lord Deighton is overseeing a review of Whitehall’s ability to deliver infrastructure, to increase commercial expertise across Government. We are enhancing the mandate of Infrastructure UK, increasing its capability to make sure that projects are delivered. Those are steps that show that this is a Government committed to investing in infrastructure projects and a Government committed to delivering infrastructure projects.
Let me turn briefly to two points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) and for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless). They talked about the importance of rail investment and alluded to making greater investment in regional aviation. They made powerful cases and that is something the Government will look at. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood asked whether I would be happy to meet him to discuss the matter further—I would be very pleased to do so.
In conclusion, I thank all hon. Members for their contributions this afternoon. I am sure we all want to see improved infrastructure in our constituencies and in the UK as a whole. While the Opposition have no answers for the challenges our country faces, this Government are getting on with the job. I therefore urge Members to reject the Opposition’s motion and to back the Government’s amendment.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question put forthwith (
Question agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House notes that the previous administration’s final Budget planned to cut capital investment by 6 per cent more than this Government’s latest plans, in the period 2010 to 2014; further notes that this Government has increased capital plans by £20 billion
at the Spending Review and at the last two Autumn Statements, by taking tough but necessary decisions to cut current spending, with a result that public investment as a share of GDP will be higher on average over this Parliament than it was under the previous administration; further notes that this Government announced £5.5 billion of extra infrastructure investment in the last Autumn Statement, including £1.5 billion for roads, £1 billion for new schools, £900 million for science and £1.8 billion for housing and local infrastructure; further notes that it has supported the largest investment in the railways since Victorian times under the High Level Output Specification; further notes that no national infrastructure plan existed under the previous administration whereas this Government has set out for the first time a multi-year long-term strategy for the UK’s infrastructure, with over 50 per cent of the Government’s top 40 projects and programmes due to be in construction, procurement or completed by the end of 2014-15; and believes that sweeping away red tape and developing new finance initiatives such as the UK Guarantees Scheme will also support up to £40 billion of extra important projects.