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Investment in Infrastructure

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2022

A critical part of the Government’s growth plan is road, rail and energy infrastructure. We will be introducing legislation shortly to ensure that the delivery of that critical infrastructure is massively sped up.

I am grateful for the investment in physical infrastructure, but those on the Treasury Front Bench will know that we need the skills for the future to deliver the jobs for the future to make that infrastructure investment sustainable. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the idea of MKU: a brand-new university in Milton Keynes? Every single Minister and Secretary of State I have spoken to about it thinks that it is a good idea. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to get it off paper and get boots on the ground?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a tireless champion for the great city of Milton Keynes. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss the idea along with colleagues from, perhaps, the Department for Education. I note that Milton Keynes has already received £23 million through the towns fund, but I am happy to meet him to discuss the idea.

Growing the economy is about improving people’s lives as well as improving the success of places such as Carlisle. To achieve that, we need both public and private investment, and, in the case of public investment, it is infrastructure that will make the real difference. Given the rise in the cost of infrastructure projects, will the Minister confirm that where such projects have a shortfall in funding but are ready to go, the Government will step in and give additional funding to support them?

It is very much our intention to speed up projects where they are ready to go. The growth plan announced a few weeks ago made clear our commitment to doing that. The last spending review provided, I think, about £100 billion of funding towards critical economic infrastructure. Where we can speed up projects, we will certainly be doing that. One project that we have in mind for exactly that is the A66 northern trans-Pennine route, which I believe goes not far from my hon. Friend’s constituency.

In 2017, former Conservative energy Minister Charles Hendry conducted a review of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. He gave it the thumbs up, but since then successive Governments have not pursued it. Given the energy crisis we are in, will the Minister consider reopening the business case? It could be a fantastic source of green energy for our country.

The Government are extremely interested in all forms of new energy generation. We are determined to make sure that the United Kingdom is electricity-independent. We are looking at all kinds of projects, including of course marine projects. I understand that when the Swansea scheme was investigated there were questions about value for money, but I am sure that we would be very happy to take a careful look at any proposition that is put forward, if the hon. Gentleman wants to do so.

When it comes to the delivery of projects, I cannot help but admire the speed at which the Government managed to transform Downing Street from a nightclub into a casino. I have one ask that is not a gamble. When are the Government going to deliver the Acorn project in the north-east of Scotland?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor says that that is something we are examining carefully. The hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the growth plan is extremely unfair. The real risk is in not having a growth plan. The real risk is in having taxes that are too high. The real risk is not investing in infrastructure. It is clear that this Government have a growth plan and the Opposition have no plan.

Of course it is always right to look for efficiencies and try to get better value for money for the taxpayer. As we look for spending cuts, could my right hon. Friend confirm that they will not come at the expense of reductions in vital infrastructure spending in our regions, not least in the north of England?

I am pleased to say, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said when he introduced the growth plan, that expediting critical infrastructure was an important part of that plan. Without critical infrastructure, we are not going to see the growth in jobs or wages and the prosperity that we all want. The Government will do everything that they can to speed up the delivery of those projects.

We do not know much yet about the Government’s new investment zones, but in order to achieve success for the primary investment in them, will the Government have specifically targeted funds for infrastructure projects in those zones? If so, will this be a further unfunded expenditure commitment?

I think the Chancellor set out the investment zone concept very clearly. There will be, by agreement with local authorities, planning freedoms and very significant tax cuts. Infrastructure investments are being handled separately to that, but it would be reasonable to expect a degree of co-ordination between the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Transport, as they consider the way investment zones interact with transport projects.