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Infrastructure Development

Oral Answers to Questions — Business, Innovation and Skills – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 26th March 2015.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:30 am, 26th March 2015

What recent representations he has received from businesses on the importance of infrastructure development to business growth.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The Government have delivered the largest investment programme in the railways since Victorian times and the biggest investment in our road network since the 1970s. The national infrastructure plan sets out £460 billion of investment to 2020 and beyond. Not surprisingly, this has been strongly welcomed by business leaders as part of our long-term economic plan to put the economy back on its feet after the appalling mess we inherited.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Business leaders in Hull would like to have the rail line to Hull electrified, but that was missed out of the Government’s plans. Why is the Minister blocking Labour’s plans for an independent infrastructure commission, as recommended by Sir John Armitt, to take the politics out of the major infrastructure decisions that this country needs?

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

What we need is not more bureaucracy and commissions, but continued progress on infrastructure investment. Specifically, the Chancellor announced in the Budget that we are proceeding with the electrification of the Selby to Hull line. The Liverpool to Manchester line has already been electrified and the Manchester to Selby line is being done. We are investing major sums in northern infrastructure to drive the northern powerhouse—£1 billion on the region’s railways and on updating trains. This is strongly supported. John Cridland of the CBI, for example, said:

“Businesses in the north will be encouraged by ongoing support for infrastructure and innovation.”

The Construction Products Association said:

“We are pleased to see that the government recognises the value of infrastructure, and…has prioritised” it.

Photo of Neil Carmichael Neil Carmichael Conservative, Stroud

Does the Minister agree that the investment in infrastructure in my constituency will enable people to get to the new university technical college that is providing training for engineering and cyber-skills, which will lead in turn to substantial economic growth in Stroud and the surrounding area?

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to his doughty campaigning on this issue throughout this Parliament. It is part of £460 billion package, with £12 billion in city deals and local growth funds and £1 billion in broadband. As he says, this is alongside our investment in vocational training and apprenticeships in engineering to put our economy back on its feet.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The Minister mentioned the CBI, and Katja Hall of the CBI has said:

“The vast majority of businesses back the creation of an independent body to assess the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs” as a means of finding

“a new way to agree upon and then consistently deliver the improvements we’ll need over the next fifty years—not just the next five.”

EEF has said that

“good infrastructure is an essential building block for the UK’s long-term competitiveness and growth”,

and has called for a permanent infrastructure body to act as a “game changer”. This is not, as the Minister said in an earlier reply, “bureaucracy”, so will he respond to the question of my hon. Friend Diana Johnson? In the light of overwhelming business support and to stop decisions on our country’s long-term future prosperity being kicked into the long grass, will the Minister back British companies and support Labour’s plan to set up an independent national infrastructure commission?

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

This is a bit rich from a party that neglected our infrastructure for 13 years and left us with gridlock Britain. Let me repeat: £460 billion-worth of investment amounts to the biggest infrastructure programme since Victorian times—and it has been welcomed. As I said, the CBI’s John Cridland said that businesses in the north would be “encouraged”. We have set up the National Infrastructure Advisory Board and we do not need another commission. What we need is to continue with the progress of investments. Let me quote Simon Walker from the Institute of Directors:

“The Chancellor was right to resist the temptation of politicised giveaways, and focus instead on long-term investment in infrastructure, science and efforts”.

We are making progress.