Fine words Mr Cameron, now it’s time for action on infrastructure investment


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Rachel Reeves MP (Labour, Leeds West) is the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Yesterday the prime minister made another speech about his government’s commitment to investing in Britain’s infrastructure, livened up with lofty rhetoric about emulating the Victorians’ vision, some shadow boxing about “vested interests and bureaucratic hurdles”, and a headline-grabbing “feasibility study” into the private financing of road improvements that, as shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle points out, raises more questions than it answers.

He isn’t wrong to highlight the urgent need to step up investment in our transport, energy and communications systems to boost jobs and growth and lay the foundations for our future economic strength. The trouble is, we’ve heard much of this before – with little yet to show for it.

Infrastructure-UK
A full five months ago (£), faced by mounting evidence his government’s austerity measures had choked off the recovery, sent unemployment soaring, and added £158 billion to planned borrowing, David Cameron announced a new “focus on updating our infrastructure”.

He said:

“In terms of job creation today, getting construction projects off the ground is critical. So this autumn, the government is on an all-out mission to unblock the system and get projects underway.”

Nick Clegg announced soon afterwards the successful bids for the second round of the government’s £1.4 billion Regional Growth Fund – in his words, a “boost to business, which will jump start growth and create jobs in the places that really need it”.

But by the end of February this year, it turned out that just £190 million of the £1.4 billion Regional Growth Funding announced by the deputy prime minister has actually reached the projects that have been promised help, with the other 73 per cent of approved bids still awaiting final sign off and disbursement.

The Times has reported that 40 per cent of the winning bids from the first round have not been signed off – 11 months after they were first announced.

 


See also:

Left and right should unite to support the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank 16 Mar 2012

Cable: Coalition lacks “a compelling vision of where the country is heading” 6 Mar 2012

Miliband: British Investment Bank could provide government banking for entrepreneurs when market fails 3 Feb 2012

Mandelson weighs in behind National Investment Bank 27 Jan 2012

The economy is crying out for more investment; we need a British Investment Bank 14 Jan 2012


 

And the centrepiece of George Osborne’s autumn statement was an announcement of another £5 billion cut from current spending programmes that “in the short term” would be used “to fund capital investments in infrastructure, regional growth and education as well as help for young people to find work”.

But scrutiny of the Treasury figures (pdf) reveals not a penny of this additional funding has yet been spent; only 16 per cent of it is due to come on stream in the coming financial year; and almost 45 per cent won’t be spent until 2014-15, the last year of the parliament.

Many of the projects that featured in Osborne’s speech won’t even get underway before then and some have yet to have their funding, planning permission or private partners confirmed. Meanwhile the promised platform to facilitate pension fund investment in priority infrastructure projects was only a Memorandum of Understanding, on which we await further progress.

No wonder both the Office of Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies judged the impact of these announcements on growth prospects to be negligible.

Add to this picture the fact that, as shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has highlighted, 18 months after Michael Gove tore up the Building Schools for the Future programme, we’ve seen repeated delays to its downsized replacement plan, with the first projects now unlikely to be tendered before June this year.

And, as shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint has pointed out, UK investment in green energy is still way below 2009 levels, with government figures suggesting very little pick up in 2011 – and we won’t have a proper Green Investment Bank with borrowing powers until 2016 at the earliest.

It is clear that after cutting too far and too fast resulted in stalling growth and soaring unemployment, this government’s newfound commitment to investment in infrastructure is too little, too late – but the need for action is urgent.

Office for National Statistics figures (pdf) show a 10 per cent drop in construction output in December, followed by another 12 per cent in January.

The Construction Products Association found this “extremely disconcerting”, noting:

“The government has made much play on private sector construction leading the recovery, as the public sector cuts begin to bite. Unfortunately from the ONS data out today, this recovery is just not happening.”

With growth stalled and unemployment rising, Labour is calling on the chancellor to use this budget to genuinely bring forward infrastructure investment so we can put people to work now on projects that would jump-start the economy now, help us get the deficit down over the medium term, as well as underpinning our economic development for the decades ahead.

Combined with other measures to stimulate demand and expand employment, it would also create the confidence we need to get private investment moving too.

In his speech yesterday David Cameron said his purpose was to “engineer a Horizon Shift” – but the problem is that the investment, jobs and growth he keeps promising are constantly shifting beyond the horizon.

The construction industry, the business struggling in a bleak trading environment, and the million young people looking for work don’t need another speech about the dim and distant future; they need a real plan of action that delivers jobs and growth now.

 


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  • Anonymous

    Just which bit of ‘there is no money left’ don’t you get?

    Look at Vince’s plan.

    1. Borrow lots of money
    2. Give it to the numpties at RBS
    3. RBS will invest it where Vince tells them to invest.
    4. The public take the loss.

    Which bit of ‘growth won’t solve it’ don’t you get?

    If one unemployed person takes 12K a year in benefits, (Housing benefit included), and pays 3K a year in taxation when employed, that’s a 15K benefit in getting them back to work, for the government finances. Get a million back to work, and that is 15bn a year. The deficit is 150 bn. Where are you going to get the other 9 million unemployed from, and where are the jobs?

    Since that doesn’t work, why don’t you come clean and say, look the plan is to hit the ordinary working person for the money.

  • http://twitter.com/prateekbuch Prateek Buch

    err, so what would you do that is different…?

  • http://twitter.com/mrnonnymouse NonnyMouse

    When you ‘bring forward’ investment you leave a big hole in future spending.

    Labour ‘brought forward’ spending from today to 2009 and that is part of the reason why growth is slower today.

    When will Labour learn?

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  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    Just what bit of “there’s plenty of cash, it’s just moved into capital” don’t you get?

    This is the economic reality. We can’t afford to keep taxing capital at far lower rates than income. And your plan is to throw a few million out of work to “save money”. *claps*

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  • Anonymous

    The problem relates to risk.

    If you tax risky income at the same rate as safe income, you won’t get investment.

    For example. Lets take the scenario where its 50-50 that a business succeeds.

    If you invest a thousand into each business, then on average you will lose 500 each time, if the return is zero.

    Now, look at the return you need to get your money back in the absence of taxation. You need the winners to return 100% returns, just to break even. 50% you lose 1000, 50% you end up with 2000, on average no profit for a risky venture.

    So lets say the return is 200%, which is very large. 50% down 1000, 50%, 3000 back for your 1000 stake. On average you end up with 1500. Now if 50% of that goes it taxes, that’s a 25% return. Not particularly good over several years, You should have taken the safe low tax option.

    Taxation on new investment needs to be low or people won’t take the risk, or they will take the risk in another tax country.

    So the question, do you want investment or do you want to keep people unemployed?

    If you tax investment, you do the latter.

    The real question is how to deliver the investments to business, and how to get the vast majority of people investing.

    It’s replace NI as a tax, and turn it into compulsorary saving.

    For the median worker that turns their retirement from 5K a year from the state into 19K a year, linked to RPI not CPI.

    Then the state and the rest of us just bail out those that didn’t make the MIG. (7K a year). That is very few people, so its cheap.

  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    Oh really? Let’s see…nope, capital expenditure doesn’t cause that and you have no idea what you’re talking about. Moreover, of course you have to ignore the damage your feral 1% did with the capital market and your Corporatist bailouts and welfare.

  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    The problem is that risk has become standard, and that Governments are expected to offer backup for that risk at very low costs to the companies.

    When failures occur, as they do, people become unemployed and the company dumps the cost onto the public anyway. This isn’t an either-or choice, you’re making sure the 99% suffer both ways.

    And of course you want to boost company’s ability to do this by taking even more cash away from poor people and putting it into high-risk funds to allow even more casino investments.

    And no, 2.4k a year. You really can’t do the math can you. Risk-based pensions produce absolutely SHITTY returns, and this is going to fall even further as more QE is pumped into reducing them.

  • Anonymous

    Risk is always there.

    On the government (really you and me), the problem is with the party that offers the guarantee.

    ie. Give me a million. If you give it to me, you’re the idiot, not me for asking.

    When failures happen, its just evidence that what was going on wasn’t what should be going on. You need to look at the flipside. All those people were employed whilst it lasted.

    And of course you want to boost company’s ability to do this by taking even more cash away from poor people and putting it into high-risk funds to allow even more casino investments.

    No. I want the poor to own the companies, and that means they have to save, and not the government. Look at the risk with the government. 5K a year, instead of 19K a year. Which has the greatest risk? Getting 5K for your money, or 19K for the same money, each year, linked to RPI not the CPI on the 5K side.

    For the median worker, NI into the FTSE gives 19K a year, RPI linked. What’s your offering? 5K, and linked to CPI, because its not as big as RPI.

    When you imply saving in bonds, you mean Gilts. ie. Lending to the government. Of course that’s going to be shit. It’s going to be shit for the same reason the state pension is a shit return on your money.

    Notice too the big steal in the budget? Yep, State second pension is being looted, just like the Post Office pension fund.

  • Anonymous

    The poor won’t be able to save. If there’d slack, then business will reduce their salaries. This is the system you wanted and have gotten.

    2.4k a year, stop repeating a lie based on a completely faulty reading of the pension regulations. And not linked to inflation at all, linked to high-risk casino gambling. Millions WILL be wiped out on a regular basis.

    Suits you, your companies will have more cash to gamble with. And of course the policy of your in-government ideology is looting. This is *exactly* what you’re calling for. Slash and burn! It won’t hurt the 1%, after all.

  • Anonymous

    Will poor people lose when the stock market goes down? Yes. So will the rich.

    But with an 19K a year pension after the current poor performance, they are way way better off than 5K a year. Even with a permanent 50% crash, they are still way better off.

    The reason is governments have run up massive debts and want the cash. From the poor, from the rich, from anyone. They are even printing it.

  • Anonymous

    Not necessarily, of course, there are plenty of ways such as shorting stocks to make money in a falling market.

    Which is a luxury people who DON’T have the time and specialised knowledge to micro-manage their investments (or hire people to do so) don’t have.

    And the 2.4k figure you’re using is lower than 5k. And not subject to being wiped out by casino betting. You’re just SO determined to bleed everyone for everything…

    Slash and burn, slash and burn! Can’t have Pensions for the 99%, it’s cash that you could loot!

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