Industry backs Osborne’s Infrastructure Commission rebirth with Adonis at helm

Former Labour transport minister Andrew Adonis to head new body charged with identifying and accelerating the delivery of critical national infrastructure projects – a not dissimilar commission to that proposed previously by Sir John Armitt and Labour. 

George Osborne

The infrastructure sector has responded with unprecedented enthusiasm to Chancellor George Osborne’s Tory Party Conference announcement to create a new National Infrastructure Commission under the leadership of Lord Andrew Adonis.

In a surprise political shift Adonis will give up the Labour Whip to drive forward the Commission – an idea that was originally devised and championed by Sir John Armitt for the Labour Party – to identify and speed up delivery of critical transport, energy and housing projects.

"We have not been very good at it as a country under all governments. We have made a start but I want to continue that with this new independent infrastructure commission. You can’t get agreement on these things if you just try to do it as a conservative or a Labour Party," George Osborne

Osborne also promised to spend a further £5bn on infrastructure projects over the next five years paid for from the sale of “buildings and land that the government doesn’t need now” to build for the future.

“This is all about Britain talking the build decisions to provide security and jobs for the next generation. To make sure that we have the railways and the roads and the runways that are going to power our economy going forward,” said Osborne pointing out that it would be “a disaster for the country if we stopped building now”.

“We have not been very good at it as a country under all governments. We have made a start but I want to continue that with this new independent infrastructure commission. You can’t get agreement on these things if you just try to do it as a Conservative or a Labour Party so I am trying to create a cross party consensus and I have got an independent chairman in Andrew Adonis," he told the BBC.

"That will help us as a nation come to these collective decisions,” he said

Osborne’s commission will start immediately and while the actual decision-making will remain with the elected government is expected to “take the politics out of infrastructure planning” by providing an independent view on the delivery of key transport, aviation, housing and energy generation and supply.

The concept of a national infrastructure commission was first floated by incoming ICE president and architect of the 2012 Olympics’ infrastructure Sir John Armitt’s in his independent review for the Labour Party. The idea was a key part of the Labour manifesto for the 2015 general election.

The Tory resurrection of the Labour idea was welcomed by industry as a “political masterstroke” and a “bold and positive move” by government to drive forward critical infrastructure across the UK.

"@Andrew_Adonis appointment as New independent #infrastructure commission by @George_Osborne is highly welcome by the industry," tweeted ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin.

“Astonished but delighted at Government acceptance of need for #infrastructure commission leading to @Andrew_Adonis appointment to lead one,” tweeted KPMG partner Richard Threlfall. 

“Infrastructure must be planned for the long term and the pressing need for an independent body, as a mechanism to build political consensus, has been recognised. We look forward to working with the Commission.” Nick Baveystock, ICE

“Appointment of @Andrew_Adonis to lead infrastructure commission will be welcomed across #infrastructure and #construction industry,”  added Threllfall. “Sir John Armitt's proposed #infrastructure commission reported to Parliament. This one reports to Government, wielding soft power only. @Andrew_Adonis appointment to lead #infrastructure commission is a political masterstroke, pinching a good #Labour policy and peer together.”  

Ogunshakin elaborated: “The National Infrastructure Commission has long been needed within the UK to hold government accountable on vital infrastructure projects. The underlying principle of non-politicised discussions and cross-party national consensus will effectively support the completion of infrastructure projects, vital to the UK’s economic and social prosperity.

"The selection of Lord Adonis as head of the National Infrastructure Commission is a show of this government’s commitment to put the contentions of political parties aside and allow those best suited to drive UK infrastructure forward," Ogunshakin added.

"While we encourage the Chancellor to ensure that the remaining appointments remain non politicised, ACE supports the goal of forging a wide scope of agreement spanning politics and stakeholders in order to ensure the best possible results for key UK infrastructure projects. “

Institution of Civil Engineers director general, Nick Baveystock said the commission would assist in making the “right strategic choices”.

“This is a bold and positive move by Government,” said Baveystock. “Infrastructure must be planned for the long term and the pressing need for an independent body, as a mechanism to build political consensus, has been recognised. We look forward to working with the Commission.”

He added that the ICE had already convened a coalition of business, industry and academic leaders to produce an evidence based assessment of the UK’s future infrastructure needs and hoped that this body could feed into Adonis’ work. 

Pinsent Mason partner Robbie Owen, architect of the draft legislation for Sir John Armitt's commission welcomed the move by Osborne.

"The Chancellor should be congratulated for recognising the broad consensus that clearly exists on the need for a new way of planning the UK’s medium to long term national infrastructure requirements," he said

"This was clearly evident from all of the work done by the Armitt Review over the last 2-3 years, which concluded that a National Infrastructure Commission was the right vehicle for medium to long term planning," he said. "And the Chancellor couldn’t have picked a better person to head up the new Commission, needing as it does a senior and well respected politician and someone who knows the infrastructure terrain and all of its competing priorities and interests well. 

"Energy and transport are familiar areas of course but it is noteworthy that the Commission is also to consider housing, where there is a growing national crisis.  It is also very encouraging that the Commission is to start work immediately, which will be considerably assisted by all of the work done by Sir John Armitt and his Review Team, including on the scope of a national infrastructure needs assessment and the statutory basis for the Commission."

Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner also welcomed the plan and immediately floated the idea of bringing former Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander on the commission.

“Must quickly appoint politically diverse commissioners to build support across Westminster. Could do worse than give @dannyalexander a call,” Reisner tweeted.

"@Andrew_Adonis appointment as New independent #infrastructure commission by @George_Osborne is highly welcome by the industry," ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin.

He added: “The development of infrastructure in the UK has, historically, lacked long-term strategy. This has meant that large projects such as Crossrail and High Speed 1 have taken far too long to develop and build. These delays, mainly caused by a lack of political consensus, have been costly for the taxpayer and UK plc.”

“The new infrastructure commission will help government deliver a long-term strategy to ensure the UK’s infrastructure truly meets the expectations of business and the general public. It is now vital that appointments are made that reflect the wide views of the UK as a whole, to ensure that the commission builds support across the political spectrum.”

Incoming president of the RICS and new head of Infrastructure at EY Amanda Clack also welcomed the new commission.

"An Infrastructure Commission is exactly what we need to give confidence and strategic direction across major infrastructure programmes for the UK," she said. "It needs to identify suitable investment and time periods for different areas of infrastructure based on their potential for supporting future growth, plus give strategic direction to the national infrastructure plan and monitor individual infrastructure business plan delivery.

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general John Cridland also said that updating the UK's infrastructure was critical to sustainable growth and productivity and said that it had long called for an independent body to assess long-term needs. 

“This new commission is welcome but we must not duck the important infrastructure decisions that need taking now, particularly on expanding aviation capacity in the southeast,” said Cridland. “Business will want to see a decision on airport capacity by the end of the year, in line with the government's commitment.”

Precisely how the new commission will operate is not yet clear, other that the assertion that the final decision making will remain with government. 

However, under the plan proposed by Sir John Armitt, the Commission would look 20 to 30 years ahead with a fresh assessment of national infrastructure requirements carried out every 10 years.

Armitt’s plan said the results would be passed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lay proposals before parliament within six months. If approved by parliament, within two years government departments would have to form detailed 10 year sector plans of how they will deliver and fund the work.

Parliament would then vote on the 10 year plans and again, if approved national policy statements would be prepared to give guidance to the planning institutions.

Government could instigate of a review of each sector plan once in every parliament.

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