My Lords, I refer the House to the “Investing in Britain’s Future” Statement made earlier in another place by my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, copies of which have been made available in the Printed Paper Office and the text of which will be printed in full in the Official Report. I commend my right honourable friend’s Statement to the House.
“I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing more time than is usual for a Statement, given the range of announcements to be made today.
Yesterday, my right honourable friend the Chancellor set out the difficult decisions that the Government have taken to continue the process of restoring our country’s finances. I pay tribute to his work to see the country through these most difficult of times.
Today, I will set out how the British economy can succeed in the global race by creating balanced growth and delivering lasting prosperity. Most past Governments of every colour have prioritised short-term convenience over the long-term national interest. Today, we change that. We are shifting the Government’s policy horizon to match the modern economy’s horizon, because the coalition Government want to make the right long-term choices for Britain.
I therefore announce the most comprehensive, ambitious and long-lasting capital investment plans this country has ever known. We are putting long-term priorities before short-term political pressures. I tell the House in all candour that these are not easy choices. There is no easy way to create jobs and prosperity. It is a difficult path, but the right one.
Today, it is clear that the British economy is moving from rescue to recovery. We inherited an economy in dire straits. Official statistics published this morning show that the recession in 2009 was even deeper than we first thought. We have made painful choices to get our economy back on the right track. We are making good progress—the deficit is down, jobs are up—but as we move from repair to renewal, we need to invest in the fabric of our nation. I can do that because we have chosen to find savings from day-to-day budgets, allowing us to recycle billions into long-term capital spending. That is not the easy choice, but the right one.
We can guarantee £300 billion of capital spending by the end of the decade. Today, I can set out our plans for more than £100 billion of that for the infrastructure of our country: the biggest public housing programme for more than 20 years, the largest programme of rail investment since Victorian times, the greatest investment in our roads since the 1970s, fast online access for the whole country and the unlocking of massive investments in cleaner energy to power our economy forwards, all at a price that we can afford to pay, without adding a single pound to our borrowing forecasts. Investing in stronger communities, in better infrastructure, in new sources of energy—that is how we will build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.
At every stage of the process, we have sought to cut waste and inefficiency first, focusing on the back room, not the front line. We should not pretend that that is painless. Back-office efficiencies mean thousands of job losses. Contract renegotiation means rightly asking more for less from our suppliers. But that is the right way to make savings, while improving the quality of our public services.
Across government, we are using our capital budgets to help our public sector become smaller, more efficient and more effective. In 2015-16, we will invest £25 million in the best digital equipment for our police and £100 million in a new prison in north Wales—a scheme that will eventually save £20 million every year. More than £200 million is being invested over three years to increase the digitisation of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ customer services, a move that will save more than £50 million every year in administrative costs.
I pay tribute to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and his team for their expertise and insight in unlocking these savings. I am the first Chief Secretary ever to have had this pool of commercial expertise at my disposal during a spending round. They tell me that we can do more to save money for the taxpayer. So, working closely with the Minister for the Cabinet, I will conduct a further rolling efficiency review of all departments to unlock savings to support our economic priorities. I will strengthen the financial management capability in government, too. We will take action to sell off £15 billion-worth of public assets by 2020. Some £10 billion of that money will come from corporate and financial assets, such as the student loan book, and the other £5 billion will come from land and property.
The Government are the custodians of taxpayers’ assets. When we no longer need them we should sell them back at a fair price and not act like a compulsive hoarder. Too often, local and national government sit on an area of land that could be put to good use for the economy, housing or schools. Today, we say this to businesses and communities, ‘If there are any publicly owned sites out there that you can make economic use of, then tell us’. Unless Ministers can be convinced that the site is needed, we will sell that land at a fair price and we will use the proceeds to pay down our debt and invest in our economy.
Let us not forget that the plans we inherited from the previous Government included significant cuts to capital spending in this Parliament. We have added to those plans year-on-year with more money for investment in this Parliament. Some people say that we are not delivering, but since we came to office more than 30 transport schemes have been completed, 150 railway stations have been upgraded and we have built 84,000 affordable homes. However, we need to work more smartly to improve delivery. No single Government infrastructure project in recent memory has been quite as triumphant as the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, so we appointed Lord Deighton, the man who oversaw that success, to improve infrastructure delivery across government. He is working his way through Whitehall department by department, helping to develop clear delivery plans. Today, the Government are accepting his central recommendation that we take crucial infrastructure delivery out of the hands of civil servants and into the hands of commercial experts.
Our innovative UK guarantee scheme is enabling privately funded projects to go forward, too. It has already provided certainty to investors in the Drax power station and the Northern line extension. I can announce that UK guarantees will be available for two more years to December 2016. I can announce today that we will offer a guarantee of up to £500 million to support investment in the Mersey Gateway bridge and a multimillion pound guarantee to advance the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, a guarantee that could provide growth in Liverpool and a guarantee that could provide power to 8% of the UK’s homes. These deals are not yet done, but they are a major step forward for our country’s future.
Let me turn to how we will invest in stronger communities. The Government have made a very strong commitment to education. We have protected the schools budget, including the pupil premium. We know what parents want: a good school nearby in a good state of repair, and this is how we will give it to them. First, some buildings simply are not good enough, so we are rebuilding 261 of the worst schools as part of the Priority School Building programme. With the moneys I have committed today, we will complete this by 2017—two years early. There are many other schools in need of repair and investment. The previous Government stopped even checking just how many schools were in need of repair. We have started again. We will put £10 billion behind this, which will be enough to clear the urgent backlog. We are investing, too, to create 1 million new places in a decade across the country, including in Lancashire, Leeds and London—better buildings and a place for every child are the best investment in our future generation.
We will continue to invest in the health of the nation, too. The health budget will rise in 2015, including on capital. That means we can begin redeveloping the Royal Liverpool hospital next year, and I can also announce a further £150 million for health research infrastructure, including facilities for our world-leading work on dementia.
Our new approach to housing is truly transformative. Our Help to Buy scheme is already getting people on to the ladder. But, put simply, this country does not have enough homes that people can afford. The previous Government allowed the number of affordable homes to fall by a shocking 420,000. A good home should not be a luxury for the few, but an achievable aspiration for the many. We are already ensuring that the affordable housing supply increases every year, not decreases, as it did in every year but one under the previous Government. But our housing associations have told me that they can do more. To do that, they need certainty on rents, alongside public investment. So today I can provide both those things: I can guarantee that social rents will be set at the consumer prices index plus 1% out to 2025—the longest period of certainty ever; and I can provide £3 billion more capital over three years from 2015 to deliver 165,000 new affordable homes. On average, that is more each year than in any of the past 20 years; it is more in three years than the previous Government managed in seven. And we can do all that because our approach gets twice as many houses as they did for every pound we put in, getting more for the taxpayer and more for this country. This spending round also funds over 2,500 more new homes specifically designed for older and disabled people, and £160 million for decent homes, mainly in London. I know that issue is important to many MPs, particularly my right honourable friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). This is the most ambitious and significant investment in affordable housing for a generation.
Too many Members of this House, on both sides, have in recent years seen the devastation that flooding can cause in their constituencies. We need to work with the private sector to protect families from the threat of flooding, so we will provide £370 million in 2015 and increase that in real terms every year to 2020. More than 400,000 households will be protected over this decade. Insurance also has a vital role to play in helping households deal with the consequences when flooding does occur. I am pleased to tell the House that we have now reached an initial agreement with the Association of British Insurers on the future of flood insurance. The industry wants to do the right thing and so do we. We have always said that we wanted to find a solution that works for households at risk of flooding, wider bill payers and the taxpayer. The industry’s proposed scheme, known as Flood Re, promises to do that by effectively limiting insurance prices for high-risk households. Up to 500,000 households would be helped, with support targeted towards those on lower incomes. Support would be funded by a levy on insurers, something the ABI has promised us will not increase customer bills in general. Importantly, there will be no cost to taxpayers.
There remain many details to work through, so we propose also to take powers to allow us to regulate for affordable flood insurance should that prove necessary. We are seeking these powers in the Water Bill, which we are today introducing to Parliament. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is today launching a public consultation on our proposed approach, and we welcome views on it. He will introduce our final proposals to Parliament as a government amendment in the autumn.
Local businesses, local communities and local authorities know best how to make the decisions to support growth in their area. For decades we have not given them enough chance to do so, but now we are. Yesterday, the Chancellor confirmed that we are establishing a single local growth fund to transfer funding streams to local enterprise partnerships, as recommended by Lord Heseltine, with £2 billion in 2015 and at least that in every year for the rest of the decade. In total, at least £20 billion will be under the control of LEPs to 2020. The details of how that will work are set out in the document published today.
We have also reached agreement with Greater Manchester on its innovative ‘earn back’ scheme, which will allow it to invest in its priorities, such as the Trafford Metrolink and the A6 to Manchester airport relief road. I know that many honourable Members, including my honourable friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), have been campaigning on that for many years—as indeed has the Chancellor, for that matter.
The regional growth fund has also been a fantastic success, thanks to the drive of people up and down the country, led by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. The £2.4 billion in this Parliament is safeguarding half a million jobs, spread across every English region. Furthermore, we are today investing an extra £600 million so that we can do even more to strengthen our communities.
For our economy to grow, however, we need those communities to be better connected. In the last two decades, rail passenger numbers have doubled, and that figure is set to rise by nearly 15% over the next five years. More people are using our railways than at any time since 1927, so we have set out a clear, long-term plan to cope with that demand. Last year, we announced that Network Rail had been funded to deliver the largest programme of rail investment since the Victorian era, and today I reaffirm that commitment. This investment will bring new life to our rail networks, upgrading stations such as King’s Cross, Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street, improving links from Liverpool to Newcastle through the northern hub and opening up a new line from Bedford to Oxford. We are also electrifying 850 miles of railway. By comparison, the previous Government managed nine miles in 13 years.
My honourable friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) will be pleased to hear that Network Rail is conducting a feasibility study into electrifying the Lakes line between Oxenholme and Windermere. We are going one better in London, and from 2015, we will fund Network Rail to begin work on electrifying the line connecting Gospel Oak and Barking. Nowhere is fast commuter transport more important for our economy than in London, and our investment in Crossrail will support more than 120,000 additional peak-time commuters every day. The Government are committing £2 million to support a funding and financing study into Crossrail 2. The challenge for the Mayor of London now is to determine how at least half of the cost of the scheme can be met through private sources, ensuring that it will be affordable to the UK taxpayer.
Keeping London connected is crucial, but it must not be done at the expense of our other great cities. It is not good enough that the UK has just 68 miles of high-speed rail, compared with 1,000 in Germany and more than 2,000 in France. We want a high-speed line that connects eight of the UK’s 10-biggest cities, making daily commuting between them possible for the first time. Today, therefore, we provide long-term financial certainty for High Speed 2, setting a funding envelope of £42.6 billion for construction costs and £7.5 billion for rolling stock, and we are setting a clear budget for the scheme of £16 billion for the next Parliament.
Yes, that is a higher overall budget than previously put forward. We are learning from our Olympic experience and setting a long-term, realistic financial plan with the right contingencies. This is the longest and largest transport budget the Treasury has ever set aside, and the people running the project will have to deliver within it. This project will change the economic geography of our country, and I urge honourable Members to support it. It is not being built at the expense of a single other rail project. Taken together, we are supporting more than £30 billion of investment in rail, making this coalition the most pro-rail Government in history.
We also need to think of the remote parts of the UK that HS2 will not reach. Air connections are crucial to those regional economies, so to help maintain those connections, I can announce today that we will provide £10 million a year for a new regional air connectivity fund. I look forward to Howard Davies’s report into that and other aviation issues.
Millions of people rely on our road network. We have worked hard over the past three years to protect road users, cancelling fuel duty increases and saving 13p on a litre of petrol, but our road system has been decaying for decades, and without further significant investment now, by 2040, nearly a quarter of motorists’ travel time could be spent stuck in traffic. I can therefore announce today the biggest programme of investment in our roads in 40 years. The Government will invest more than £28 billion over the six years from 2014 in the enhancement and maintenance of national and local schemes. First, we will take action to fix the backlog of maintenance that has left road surfaces crumbling in communities up and down the country. We are committing £10 billion of investment in road repairs between 2015-16 and 2020-21. More than £4 billion of that money will be spent on national road maintenance—enough to resurface more than 21,000 miles of road, which is the equivalent of London to Beijing and back—while the other £6 billion will be spent locally, allowing local authorities to fill the equivalent of 19 million potholes a year.
Secondly, we will deliver all the major projects in the Highways Agency’s pipeline. We will add two lanes to the busiest motorways, bringing another 221 lane miles to our road network, and we will tackle some of the most congested parts of our network, through projects such as the £1.5 billion A14 scheme between Huntingdon and Cambridge. This scheme is of strategic national importance and will unlock jobs, housing and growth in the region, as well as providing key relief for a major freight route. I am delighted to announce that we will be bringing forward the start of construction by almost two years, to 2016.
I can confirm today that there is more: the A19 between Newcastle and South Shields, the A63 in Hull, the M6 junctions between Birmingham and Manchester, the M5 junctions from Bromsgrove to Worcester, the A38 Derby junctions, the M1 junction near Long Eaton and south of Rugby, the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury, junctions on the M4, the M23 Gatwick junctions and the A27 Chichester bypass.
This money will pay for us to identify and deliver solutions for the most notorious problem spots across the country. Any honourable Member from the Prime Minister down who lives in Cornwall or who has driven there for their holidays will want to see a better A303. Any hon. Member planning a trip to Scotland—Scotland as part of a strong United Kingdom—will want to see a better A1 north of Newcastle. We will also look at the A27 corridor, the trans-Pennine route and connectivity to Leeds airport.
We will ensure that these investments are delivered, because I can also announce that we are transforming the Highways Agency into a publicly owned corporation, an organisation that will have the long-term funding certainty and flexibility to deliver the best possible road network for the UK’s motorists. We are legislating to ensure that these reforms and this investment are guaranteed.
Where our predecessors left the road network on the hard shoulder, we are bringing it into the fast lane. We are not only building the roads of the future but developing the cars of the future. This Government remain committed to ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of decarbonising road transport and investing in electric vehicles.
In the 21st century, good communications are not just about faster roads and high-speed railways, however; they are also about high-speed internet access. The Government have already committed £1.2 billion of public investment to fixed superfast broadband. I saw at first hand the impact that that investment is having on smaller communities when I visited Rothbury in Northumberland. It is crucial, if we want to rebalance our economy, that it is not just the biggest cities that have access to the fastest broadband.
The UK already has better broadband coverage, usage and choice than Germany, Italy, France and Spain, but we want to go further. I can announce today that we are providing a further £250 million to ensure that fixed superfast broadband reaches 95% of the population by 2017. We will work closely with industry to ensure that at least 99% of the UK population have access to superfast broadband—whether fixed, wireless or 4G—by 2018.
Let me now turn to how we support the private sector to deliver our energy needs. Some Members will know that I was privileged to spend my early years on the Hebridean island of Colonsay. Then, the island had no mains electricity. Unreliable diesel generators powered the island, and regularly broke down. Until mains electricity arrived, we never quite knew when the lights would go out. We do not want any community in our country to face that problem in the future. Our existing power stations are closing, as they are too old or too dirty to continue. They must be replaced and added to as our need for electricity grows.
Thanks to the hard work of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, we are ready to unleash the energy revolution that our country needs. Today’s news from the British Geological Survey of 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas—double the previous estimate—confirms its huge potential for the UK. That is almost as much hot air as the shadow Chancellor produces in a year. The plans that we are setting out today provide the framework to kick-start this industry in a way that protects the environment and supports local communities.
As well as revolutionising the way in which we get our energy, we are transforming how we generate and supply it. As we face the challenge of climate change, we need to bring forward investment in low-carbon technologies. This country has massive potential in wind, wave and tidal. We need to harness it. We are putting in place a comprehensive energy policy through the Energy Bill that is in front of this House. This is an approach that we know will work for consumers and investors alike. Last year we made the unprecedented decision to set out funding plans for low-carbon generation all the way to 2020, providing up to £7.6 billion in real terms.
Now we can set out what this means for investors. We do this through setting strike prices. If future prices are below this level, we will guarantee a price to the generator, giving them the confidence to invest now. But if they rise above it, we will claw back money for consumers. We were planning to set strike prices next month, but we have been able to make faster progress so, today, I can announce that we are publishing the prices for renewable generation ahead of schedule. Prices have been set for key renewable technologies, including onshore and offshore wind, tidal, wave biomass and solar. The prices are broadly similar to those we would have to pay under the renewables obligation. We will set the price at the level we need to bring forward sufficient investment, but not a penny higher. As these technologies develop, costs will fall, so we will reduce the price too. For instance, next year we will guarantee generators £155 per megawatt hour of offshore wind. By 2018 this will fall to £135. We expect our reforms to bring forward 8 GW to 16 GW of offshore wind capacity. Industry asked for certainty; we have given it. Now industry needs to get on with it.
Yes, this approach has costs now but, in the long term for consumers, they will be more stable than they would otherwise have been. In fact, when this investment goes alongside our plans for energy efficiency, overall our policies could save an average of £166 per household by 2020. We are taking the right decisions now for the good of our country.
In addition, we need to guarantee that capacity will be available at short notice to meet spikes in demand, for instance through gas-fired stations. Today we can provide details on a new regime that will achieve this. The first auction for this new capacity market will run next year to provide certainty for the winter of 2018. But there is financial risk for construction, too. That is why we have set up a Green Investment Bank to back green energy projects. It has committed over £600 million already; for instance, it has invested in the Walney wind farms off the north-west coast of England, which are expected to provide energy to the equivalent to 300,000 households. We have already pledged to provide £3 billion for the bank and, today, I can announce that we will provide an additional £800 million so that it can expand further. Crucially this will include, for the first time, the power to borrow half a billion pounds in 2015-16 from government. This is a real milestone in green investment, delivering a key promise we made in our election manifesto, unlocking over £100 billion of private investment into our energy networks, and supporting jobs, growth and prosperity for years to come. Our energy policy is a win for consumers, a win for investment and jobs and a win for our climate; the greenest Government ever.
In the last three years we have re-secured for this country a very precious commodity: credibility. No one doubts that the coalition is serious about sorting out the economic mess that we have inherited. People have the right to know that we will continue to work hard to repair the economy, that interest rates will stay low and that we will get our country back on an even keel. But repair is not all we do, because people also have the right to expect that Britain stays one step ahead in the world, that we ease congestion on our roads and deliver faster broadband to make sure businesses in every corner of this country can serve their customers, and that we make sure all parts of Britain keep going. They expect that we will invest in a modern railway so that commuters get to work on time and home in the evening to see their kids. People have the right to expect that we keep spending serious money on the schools and hospitals on which all families rely, and that we make sure that the lights stay on in our homes, even when the demand on energy is surging.
The plans I have set out today deliver all that and more. This is an ambitious plan to build an infrastructure of which Britain can be proud and, in doing so, to help build a stronger economy in a fairer society where everyone can get on in life. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for laying the Statement before the House, but perhaps I may also express surprise that the Minister with responsibility for infrastructure is not in the House to respond to questions. The Government describe this as a major Statement on infrastructure, so the House would expect him to be here, unless he has a compelling obligation elsewhere of which I have not been informed.
I offer the noble Lord my commiserations that the Statement contains so many words chasing the construction of so little real infrastructure. Can he confirm that the £300 billion of infrastructure investment that the Chancellor trumpeted yesterday is a forward projection right to the end of the decade, with no new funding for this year or next, and a real-terms cut in capital investment in 2015? Can he confirm, as the Office for Budget Responsibility has, that in the three years since 2010 the Government have actually spent £5.6 billion less than the previous Government had planned on infrastructure? Can he also confirm that, in consequence, in 2010 the Government cancelled a string of shovel-ready infrastructure schemes, some of which they are now trying to reinstate although, of course, they are no longer shovel-ready? These include the cancellation of 715 new and refurbished schools and a string of major road schemes, including upgrades of the Al, the A14, the A19, the A21 and the A47.
Turning to the national infrastructure plan, which in reality is the longest fairy tale since “Snow White”, can the noble Lord tell us why of the 576 projects in the last version of the plan, 80% have not even been started, and why only seven have been completed, five of them started under the previous Government?
On housing, can the noble Lord confirm that the Homebuy scheme, which the Chancellor said would support 100,000 home purchases and stimulate housebuilding, has so far supported only 2,000 purchases, suggesting that it will take half a century to meet its goal?
On energy, despite what the Statement says about shale, can the noble Lord confirm that investment in energy infrastructure has decreased in this Parliament? Specifically, can he tell us when he expects the Government and EDF to sign a real contract to build Hinkley Point as the first of the proposed new nuclear power stations?
On transport, will the noble Lord confirm that Crossrail 2, which is highlighted in the Statement, does not even yet have an agreed route let alone a funding plan, and that construction could not start until the 2020s or even the 2030s?
To take a specific immediate project of considerable economic importance to the country—the A14, which links the port of Felixstowe with the Ml, the M6 and the Midlands, a project which was cancelled in 2010 and is now being revived—can the noble Lord tell us when he expects construction to start and finish and whether part of the new A14 will definitely be a toll road, as announced last year, since there is still no published plan for how the tolling will work on an A road with the prospect of mass diversion on to untolled roads going through Cambridgeshire villages? Can he also tell us when we will see the actual plans for the delivery of each project in the Highways Agency pipeline as promised in the Statement?
Surely the Minister is also aware that there is a gaping black hole in the Government’s entire transport infrastructure plan, namely airport capacity in the south-east of England. The previous Government published plans to expand Heathrow which the private sector would have financed entirely. The present Government cancelled that plan and then did nothing for two years. Then, last year, the Prime Minister appointed a commission, but the commission will not even report for another two years. Does the Minister accept that five years of total inaction on extra hub airport capacity serving London, which is desperately needed by business, exemplifies the Government’s failure on infrastructure?
On HS2, the plan for which I published three years and three months ago, can the Minister tell us why this is moving ahead at a snail’s pace? Why is there still no Bill to grant planning powers for the first London-to-Birmingham section of the line, and do the Government still stand by their pledge in 2010 to enact such a Bill by 2015, something which is now an absolute impossibility given the hybrid Bill procedure?
The only thing high speed about the Government’s infrastructure delivery is the speed at which Ministers read out long lists unrelated to real projects being delivered in the real world. Will the Minister confirm that in the real world, 84,000 construction jobs have been lost since 2010; that the World Economic Forum ranks the UK lower than Barbados for infrastructure delivery; that, again according to the ONS, infrastructure spending in the first quarter of this year plunged by 50% on the previous quarter, and by 40% on the same quarter last year; that the pensions infrastructure platform launched in 2011 to help deliver £20 billion of new roads, railways and utilities, has so far raised commitments of just £2 billion, none of which has yet been invested; and that the UK guarantees scheme announced in July last year, with the promise of up to £40 billion of projects, has so far guaranteed only a single project? The Chief Secretary spoke of two more today—the Mersey Gateway bridge and Hinkley Point—but he then concluded by saying that these are not done deals.
Summing all this up, it is hardly surprising that John Cridland, the director-general of the CBI, said yesterday:
“While the Government talks a good game on infrastructure we’ve seen too little delivery on the ground”;
or—even more damning—that the director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce has described the Government’s national infrastructure plan as,
“hot air, a complete fiction”.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his tour d’horizon. He asked why the Minister for infrastructure is not here. There are two reasons why he is not here: first, in the spirit of the coalition, I am repeating the Statement as my colleague Danny Alexander made it in the other place; and secondly, the Minister for infrastructure is spending every moment of his waking hours ensuring that the infrastructure programme moves forward more rapidly.
The Minister for infrastructure does regard himself as accountable to this House; that is why he made the Statement here yesterday and why he will make further contributions to the work of your Lordships’ House over the next few weeks.
The noble Lord made a number of scathing comments about the forward projections in the infrastructure programme. Perhaps I may remind the House that this is a proposal for long-term planning for infrastructure. What was the long-term legacy left by the previous Government of whom the noble Lord was a member? It consisted of a note that said, “There is no more money left”. His Government presided over what we now know was a GDP falling by 7.2%, which we have spent the last three years turning round. We are now doing what everyone involved in infrastructure wants to happen—that we set out a long-term, credible plan for infrastructure development. He talks about the level of planning and the expenditure planned. However, this Government, and these plans, would generate a degree of expenditure on capital investment and infrastructure over this decade that is greater than that achieved over the lifetime of the last Labour Government. These are ambitious plans that we are determined to carry out.
The noble Lord raised a very important point about the speed at which things happen. This is one of the reasons why my noble friend Lord Deighton is now part of the Government and why, for the first time, we are setting up in each department dedicated teams with commercial experience to enable infrastructure expenditure to take place on a sensible and sustainable basis.
The noble Lord talked, for example, about schools. We are delivering a school building programme with a cost per school that is 40% less than was achieved under the previous Government. This is absolutely essential if we are to undertake the degree of new expenditure required.
The noble Lord talked about affordable housing. This Government will deliver more affordable housing than the last Labour Government, and in much worse economic times. The noble Lord talked about whether plans to stimulate the housing market and house purchases had been successful. He will know that the announcements made by the Chancellor at the general election have already resulted in many people who would otherwise not be able to afford a deposit for a house, being able to get a house. Not only are mortgage approvals at their highest level for a considerable time but private sector housebuilders are now saying that they are making significantly enhanced plans to increase housebuilding. These are real, positive developments in an area where everybody agrees we needed to do more over a number of decades, and now we are doing more.
The noble Lord raised a number of questions about rail. He asked why we have not got an agreed route for Crossrail 2. We are looking at developing the route and at the detailed feasibility plans for Crossrail 2. I remind the noble Lord that we are in charge of the biggest rail construction programme since Victorian times—not just High Speed 2, but also a huge electrification programme that completely puts into the shade anything achieved by his Government. As for the pace of High Speed 2, we are bringing forward the hybrid Bill and a paving Bill.
The main reason for the delay on High Speed 2 is, as he knows, that we have undertaken a huge public consultation. Many aspects of the scheme have been changed because very strong public opinion was expressed against certain aspects of the original programme. For example, there will now be more tunnelling. Is he saying that he would rather we tried to bulldoze the whole thing forward without that consultation and without ensuring that when the scheme goes ahead, it is done with the minimum of disruption to the communities through which the railway will pass?
I know that the noble Lord has considerable interest in the A14. This is a programme that will cost £1 billion. We have announced today more detail about the balance of funding and the fact that we are now going to be getting £100 million from the local authorities that stand to benefit from the road. He said that he was not sure whether it is still planned to toll the road. As the document makes clear, it is still the plan to toll it, but the details of how that will be done have yet to be finally worked out. I am sure that he will barely be able to contain himself until they are.
The noble Lord said that there is a gaping black hole in our airport policy. There is no gaping black hole in our airport policy; rather a process is under way which will lead to proposals for a new hub airport in the south-east—
I am sorry, for an enhanced hub airport. I do not want either to enthuse or depress the noble Lord as to what the outcome of that process will be. He knows as well as I do that no conclusion has been reached and, equally, he knows that all parties went into the last election with very clear plans for what they would not like to see happening in terms of enhanced capacity. As with High Speed 2, we need to try to produce something that is not just deliverable but capable of generating significant public support.
He commented on the fact that we have not made as much progress on the UK guarantees scheme as he would like to see. As he said, we have made considerable progress with the Mersey Gateway bridge and at Hinkley Point. He asked when there will be a real contract with EDF for Hinkley Point. There will be a real contract as soon as we have a sensible contract that is fair to both parties. The noble Lord and the whole House know that if it was easy to sign contracts on nuclear energy, perhaps his Government would have done that. We will certainly be doing it more quickly, but it is not easy in this environment to reach agreement on these extremely complicated, long-term, multibillion pound contracts. Again, is he saying that he would prefer that we rush into an arrangement like some of the PFIs, which have turned out to be extraordinarily bad value for the taxpayer, rather than make sure that we get it right? We are committed not only to doing this, but to getting it right.
This programme sets out the biggest degree of capital expenditure in the railways since Victorian times and the biggest capital programme for the roads since the 1970s. It puts forward affordable housing plans that are significantly greater than the noble Lord’s party was able to achieve when it was in Government. It gives me great pleasure to commend it to the House.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that these long-term plans—in some cases very long-term—are mostly welcome, but that the problem lies in their delivery and implementation over the years? He may be too young, but does he recall that back in 1980, I announced in the House of Commons on behalf of the Government the introduction of a programme of nine new giant pressurised water reactor nuclear power stations, but only one ever got built? Of course, life would be very different today for our power sector, and we would have much more opportunity for low carbon, if we had those machines in place but the programme failed. Will he make sure that his colleagues in government, particularly in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, are fully aware of why the failures occurred, why the vast stabilisation and drop in fossil fuel prices undermined most of the economics of nuclear and why the political resistance built up? There are lessons to be learnt there which, unless they are absorbed properly, may yet damage our own attempts to move to a low-carbon, long-term nuclear base load for electricity.
My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance but the noble Lord underlines what has been a leitmotif of the nuclear programme. On paper it has looked a lot better in a number of respects and easier to deliver than has been achieved in practice. What we are committed to trying to achieve when we set our face to get new nuclear capacity is that we are able to deliver it on a reasonable budget and within a sensible timeframe.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, as a result of the postponement of major capital projects until the later part of the decade, they will incur significantly higher interest rate costs than they would have done if they had been planned and financed earlier? Will he also confirm that, as a result of the postponement of employment-generating projects, the social security bill will be significantly higher than it would otherwise have been in the interim?
My Lords, the Bank of England has expressed the view that low interest rates are here to stay for a significant period ahead. Only an idiot would predict what interest rates will be in 2020 but if we look at the next three or four years, I do not think that anybody would say that interest rates were going to rise significantly, if at all. As for whether employing lots of people to build houses or roads means that fewer people are unemployed, that is self-evidently the case. That is why we are keen to get these programmes moving as quickly as we can.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement on infrastructure investment, in particular the commitment to removing bottlenecks on the A19 in Tyne and Wear, both to the south and to the north of the Tyne Tunnel. May I ask him about the proposals for the A1 north of Newcastle and the western bypass? As I understand it, there is a feasibility study to consider problems and solutions to the A1 north of Newcastle. The solution is clear; it is the dualling of the A1. I interpret the Statement as saying that the Government are now moving to the next stage of dualling the A1 north of Newcastle and that we should have cause quietly to celebrate.
May I ask him one thing on affordable housing? I welcome the Statement that has been made today. Has any further thought been given to increasing the borrowing cap on local authorities? The average debt on a council house at the moment is £17,000. There is enormous headroom to increase borrowing. It should not be on the public balance sheet, following decisions to make this a trading account from April last year. There is the capacity to deliver around 40,000 to 50,000 council houses as a consequence of raising that borrowing cap if the Government would do it.
My Lords, in respect of the A1, the noble Lord is absolutely right. There is a commitment to a feasibility study. Upgrading the A1, as he says, means dualling it. I think that quiet optimism strikes the right note. Obviously, if local authorities had their borrowing powers increased they would be able to do as he says. As he knows, the Treasury down the ages has set its face very firmly against such a move. I would be happy to raise his suggestion again with my colleagues in the Treasury.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the north-east has suffered most since the last general election? Our unemployment is higher than any other region’s and the prospects coming from the spending review yesterday mean it is likely to increase rather than decrease because of the push on public-sector employment. The change in benefits will also have a significant effect in the north-east.
Despite all that, we are a region that always looks to be optimistic. I hope that the Minister’s noble friend is right about the A1—I have a bit more scepticism—but that is not enough. What else will the Government do to make sure that they invest in the region that is paying the greatest cost but still manages to be one of the best exporting regions in the country? The Government are letting the north-east down. People in the north-east want to contribute to the future. What will the Government do to enable them to do that? Maybe some affordable housing before the next election would be a good idea.
I absolutely agree that the north-east has had a high level of unemployment for many decades and compared to the rest of the country. I accept also that it has suffered particularly in recent years because there has been a high level of public sector employment there, which has fallen significantly. The attempts by the Government to shift priorities towards manufacturing and the private sector have already, in some respects, begun to bear fruit in the north-east. Nissan goes from strength to strength and the number of apprenticeships that we are funding helps people in the north-east, as elsewhere, to get skills that enable them to get jobs in the long term. That is how we will get sustainable growth in the north-east.
My Lords, I seem to recall that we were discussing dualling the A1 when I was Secretary of State for Scotland nearly 20 years ago. What is needed now are projects that are actually happening on the ground. So what on earth are the Government doing, for example, in persisting with this HS2 project, which we were told yesterday has increased in cost by a third even before a single activity has happened on the ground? It is now set to cost more than £40 billion. It is perfectly possible to have privately funded projects, such as the third runway extension at Heathrow, going ahead, creating jobs and dealing with the very substantial disbenefit created by the chaos at Heathrow. Why is it jam tomorrow when we could have jam today?
My Lords, the noble Lord is usually very good at reminding us about the financial constraints under which the Government are operating. It is not a case of jam tomorrow and no jam today. As I said earlier, in the housebuilding sector, we are putting more money into building affordable housing and all the big housebuilders have said in the past three months that they are increasing their plans for building private sector housing. The great thing about housing is that it starts quickly. As the noble Lord knows, we just do not agree with him on High Speed 2. We find it surprising, when the rest of Europe and much of the rest of the world are investing very significantly in high-speed rail, that some people in this country feel that it is not a sensible technology and a potential source of economic development.
My Lords, for many years, I campaigned for an A27 bypass around my constituency of Worthing. Just before I left the House of Commons in 1997, preparations were well advanced for this to happen. However, the project was dropped completely by the Labour Government. Can my noble friend give me an assurance that he will do everything possible to ensure that the appalling congestion on the A27 is relieved by the building of a bypass as soon as possible?
My Lords, will my noble friend accept that those Members of this House who will be engaged in the Committee stage of the Energy Bill are extremely grateful that in this Statement, the Government have brought forward the details of the arrangements for the low-carbon generators. However, as has already been mentioned, it makes no reference to nuclear, only to renewables. They are also grateful that the Government are bringing forward details of the auction for the capacity market from next year, together with this Statement today. However, will he tell us why there is, as far as I can see from the Statement, no reference to investment in network transmission, where there is certainly a need for work to be done in the near future?
My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord about network transmission. I know that this is something that concerns my colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but I am afraid that I am not close enough to it to know exactly where we have got to.