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Sassoon puts 'neck on the line' over cost of civils report

Treasury minister Lord Sassoon has this week pledged his commitment to Infrastructure UK’s (IUK) cost cutting mission after fears surfaced that the process was being derailed by a lack of political leadership.

Sassoon, formally economic secretary to the Treasury, has a brief that includes infrastructure alongside industrial strategy, financial regulation, competition policy, financial services and banking policy, financial crime and debt management policy.

Despite this wide-ranging brief, he insisted this week that he was firmly committed to driving

IUK’s agenda of cutting the cost of UK civil engineering.

“My neck is certainly on the line. I am the minister that is specifically tasked with infrastructure,” he said, “amongst many other things.”

Sassoon stressed the importance IUK’s detailed action plan which will be published alongside March’s budget.

“We have got to keep on with the detailed action plan. None of this stuff is going to get dropped. It is critical that the industry is with us on this,” he said.

Sassoon was speaking whilst on a tour of major projects in the capital. The tour was organised a week after concerns were raised at an IUK industry briefing at the ICE.

Nichols Group chief executive Mike Nichols led the lobbying for more visible political involvement.

“For this valuable reform to succeed - unlike its predecessors – it needs a clear champion to drive it through,” he said. “Without that champion I am not optimistic about seeing any significant improvement.”

Industry leaders told NCE that a Treasury minister needed to take ownership of the process.

Sassoon also emphasised the importance of eliminating the peaks and troughs in demand for civil engineering services.

He said an informal ministerial group chaired by cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin had been set up to ensure better communication between government departments with infrastructure spends.

“For the first time we are bringing together every department that has a significant infrastructure programme,” he said.

“Doing this means we can look at programmes in a sensible way identify where blockages – whether they’re construction capacity or financing – might be, and get market structures in place to avoid them,” he said.

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