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CBI urges Osborne to fast track road and rail

The government should focus on fast-tracking four or five of its 40 priority infrastructure projects, business leaders said last week.

Speaking ahead of the Budget on 20 March, employers body Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said that such a focus would send out a message to investors that infrastructure is a good way to invest in the UK.

CBI director general John Cridland has written to chancellor George Osborne calling for a “modest” shift of £2.2bn from current expenditure budgets into “high growth spending”.

“The government has shown the will to prioritise infrastructure spending,” said Cridland in his letter to George Osborne. “There is a disparity, however, between government intentions and delivery on the ground. The mismatch is undermining confidence in the infrastructure agenda.”

Cridland’s letter pointed out that government should prioritise “infrastructure investment across the piece, as well delivering transformational projects”.

He set out three clear challenges for the government on infrastructure as:

  • Focus on delivering priority projects that underpin key policy goals, including boosting exports and maximising economic potential in all regions
  • Deliver a bold and credible package of road reform
  • Unlock investment in energy infrastructure by establishing a fully-functioning Green Investment Bank.

CBI’s chief policy director Katja Hall said that of the reallocated cash, £1.25bn would go on capital investment while £950M would go to tax cuts - the money would be obtained from “efficiency savings and asset sales”.

And while there was a reluctance to undermine the government’s deficit reduction plan, the CBI was critical for its failure to deliver on promises to stimulate the economy and generate growth.

“Our messages [on infrastructure] are the same as they have been for a long time - delivery, delivery, delivery,” said Hall.

“There is a frustration that things are taking a long time - things are announced and then they are taking months [to deliver benefits to industry].”

In his letter, Cridland highlights the need to press ahead with road schemes such as the A14 upgrade, M4 relief road and the A303 upgrade.

He also mentioned rail projects like the Northern Hub and the Heathrow link to the Great Western Main Line as well as the Thames sewer tunnel.

These projects, he said, were examples of schemes of national significance whose delivery could be brought forward with government support.

The letter says that even those projects with explicit government support, such as the A14, would still be subject to a consultation process of at least two years with construction starting at least four or five years later.

“Why won’t construction start [on the A14] until 2018?” asked Hall. “Is there really no way we can bring that forward by one or two years?”

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