Skip to main content

Infrastructure Investment

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 10 December 2013

Average annual investment in infrastructure has risen to £45 billion per year under this Government, compared with just £41 billion during the last five years of the previous Government. Last week we published an updated national infrastructure plan that set out our long-term plan for meeting those ambitions for the next decade and beyond. That included a pipeline of £375 billion-worth of projects, building on the announcements we made in June.

I thank the Chief Secretary for his answer. Does he agree that investing in strategic roads such as the A34 in my constituency can be key to unlocking vital growth and inward investment in priority sectors? Will he investigate the economic case for urgent investment in the A34?

I agree about the importance of the A34, which is why, through the national pinch-point programme announced in the 2011 autumn statement, we committed to a scheme to improve links between the A34 and the M40. Work on that scheme will start in March, and I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that it will make a significant difference to the economy in her part of the country.

Does the Chief Secretary agree that if we are to compete internationally it is essential that we build our infrastructure more quickly? Over the past decade or so, progress has been glacially slow. In my constituency, the A5-M1 link road was announced 10 years ago, in 2003, and a shovel has yet to hit the ground.

I agree very much with my hon. Friend, and that is why part of our national infrastructure plan last week included further improvements to the planning system for major infrastructure projects. The A5-M1 link road has been prioritised as a key project and I understand that funding was announced last year and work will start next spring.

Is the Chief Secretary aware that figures from the Office for National Statistics show that infrastructure work, since this Government came to power, has dropped by 15%? Given its importance as a motor for growth, why is he now planning to cut it yet again in 2015?

I gave the figures for investment in infrastructure in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). We set them out in our national infrastructure plan and, what is more, with public and private investment taken together over the next decade or so, we have a pipeline of £375 billion-worth of projects. This is the first time that this country has had a serious long-term plan for investing in infrastructure. If the hon. Gentleman believes in the long-term health of the British economy, he should support our national infrastructure plan, not criticise it.

Can the Chief Secretary confirm that the cost of High Speed 2 has increased by £10 billion under this Government, and can he tell the House when he will get a grip on the costs of this huge infrastructure project?

I do not recognise those figures. Back in the spending round in June, I set a cap on the costs of HS2 at £42.6 billion. We intend that it will be delivered substantially under that budget. The question for Labour Members is whether they support this project or not. Frankly, given the enormous benefits it will provide for cities across the north, Labour Members should support the scheme, not constantly undermine it.

I welcome the Chancellor’s decision to establish the great eastern main line taskforce, so can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that in this era of record capital spending on infrastructure he will look favourably on investing in measures that the taskforce proposes?

I certainly will. I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned assiduously for this, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Simon Wright) and many other Members in that part of the country, and the ambition that the taskforce has set out is a good one. It is very much in keeping with the direction of travel in our national infrastructure plan, so I look forward with interest to the proposals from the taskforce and to taking them forward in due course.

I refer the Chief Secretary to the graph on page 6 of his new infrastructure plan, which looks like one of those dodgy “Labour can’t win here” graphics on a Lib Dem “Focus” leaflet. The graph apparently shows, as he has boasted this morning, that annual infrastructure investment is up under the coalition, but in the footnote it says that the Treasury had “challenges” putting the graph together and that the data are “not comparable” with the rest of the document. Will he agree to submit the figures to independent scrutiny by the UK Statistics Authority or the Office for Budget Responsibility?

After the shadow Chancellor’s performance last week, “Labour can’t win here” is a good description of the Chamber of the House of Commons.

Any Member of this House can submit statistics to the UK Statistics Authority, but I think that those statistics present an accurate picture of the level of overall infrastructure investment in this country. I welcome the strong interest that the right hon. Gentleman has shown in infrastructure and the commitment that he has made to taking these proposals forward. I wish that other members of his party showed a similarly constructive attitude.