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Infrastructure

Part of Opposition Day — [17th( )Allotted Day] — Horsemeat – in the House of Commons at 4:42 pm on 12th February 2013.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 4:42 pm, 12th February 2013

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.