On Wednesday, the chancellor’s autumn statement will announce policies and initiatives to give the impression a confident and burgeoning economy is within reach.
The signs are that will mean more roads and weaker planning. But no one wants to pay and important safeguards are being cast aside.
This agenda comes straight from business, not from local communities; the Confederation of British Industry, British Chambers of Commerce and numerous Local Enterprise Partnerships have published long lists of infrastructure priorities.
Too many of these priorities aren’t about modernising our economy but instead are rehashed road schemes, often decades old.
Campaign for Better Transport research has identified more than £30 billion worth of such road schemes being proposed across the country. In addition to the infrastructure shopping lists, industry groups have been quick to demand measures that make it easier for them to build. In his speech to the CBI in November, the prime minister duly announced his intention to cut back on consultation and stop appeals from ‘time wasters’ in local communities.
The combined vision from the prime minister and the Treasury resembles a child in toy shop who wants everything but can afford nothing. So they are looking for ways to make road building attractive to private finance in ways that take the money spent off the national balance sheet – even if the final tally costs the taxpayer more.
For instance, the autumn statement could see further announcements towards new toll roads. This is despite the fact that this week, consultants examining how tolling could pay for a new section of the A14 in Cambridgeshire have shown it to be nigh on impossible to devise a proposal acceptable to drivers and investors. The only way to make tolls work seems to be for the state to underwrite the whole thing and guarantee private investors make their money – which sounds remarkably like an expensive and discredited PFI deal.