The Chancellor Philip Hammond has swerved quizzing from the House of Lords on the future of the National Infrastructure Commission, but indicated a preference for small projects to boost the economy.
Appearing before the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee yesterday, he said small, rapid-delivery road and rail projects would better boost the economy over larger, long-term infrastructure commitments.
Yesterday (September 8), a Bill that was supposed to put the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) after a on a statutory footing omitted any mention, raising concerns about its future.
At the Committee hearing yesterday afternoon, its chairman Lord Hollick asked Hammond whether he still intended to put the NIC on a statutory footing. Hammond said that the Treasury was looking at how the body would play a role within the government’s industrial strategy.
He said: “But what we want to do right now is to look at how the Infrastructure Commission will play a role in the industrial strategy. Clearly there’s going to be an interface between what the Infrastructure Commission is doing and some of the strands of work in the industrial strategy. So we’re doing that right now as part of the industrial strategy work and if there are any changes to our approach we’ll announce them in due course.”
Hammond added that the Department for Transport had a very highly regarded team that evaluates large capital projects, although extra scrutiny ‘can’t do any harm’, to which Hollick replied: “I always got higher marks when I marked my own homework as well.”
Earlier in the hearing, Hammond was quizzed on how he would boost the economy, with former Labour Chancellor Alastair Darling asking whether he proposed smaller infrastructure projects ‘that can be delivered quickly rather than HS2?’
Hammond said: “I think there is a role for big strategic projects, but I think they are unlikely ever to contribute to fiscal stimulus because of the timelines involved. I’m also a great believer in what I’ll call for shorthand purposes the Eddington Principle, that often it is modest, rapidly deliverable investments that can have the most immediate impact, particularly on the road network, but also in some places on the rail network.”