Ministers are also to go on an overseas sales drive to raise foreign investment in UK infrastructure.
The measures were announced today (Wednesday) by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in a speech on the economy to the London School of Economics.
“Failure to deliver major infrastructure projects on time, on budget, is a perennial problem in the UK,” Mr Clegg said, and central government was too often part of the problem. Promising to change that, he said “Whitehall will put its foot on the accelerator”.
He announced: “We’re going through the nation’s capital spending plans to hand-pick up to 40 of the biggest infrastructure projects, the ones most important to growth, which will be given new special priority status.
“Each will be rigorously examined by ministers to make sure there are no delays, no blockages and the economy feels the benefits as quickly as possible.
“Where we need to get investors and developers in, we’ll do so. Where local conversations need to happen, we’ll make them happen. Whatever the problem is – regulation, funding, procurement, planning - if we can help unblock it, we will.”
To help bring in money to pay for it, the government is targeting overseas investors.
“We’re ramping up our sales pitch,” the deputy PM said. “Next week, Lord Sassoon will travel to Canada to pitch to pension fund investors. Later this month, Lord Green will do the same to leaders of the Gulf Sovereign Wealth Funds. We’re targeting the Middle East, Latin America and China, where there are investors with five year investment plans of over £150bn each.”
Mr Clegg also said that the Regional Growth Fund would now prioritise infrastructure projects that promise sustainable economic growth.
However, the speech failed to impress Michael Ankers, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, who said: “It is encouraging that the government recognises the huge potential for infrastructure investment in kick starting private sector economic growth. However, it continues to preside over a public sector spending budget in which current expenditure continues to grow and will rise by a further 10% over the next four years, whilst capital expenditure is set to fall by 20% over the same period. Nothing in the speech suggests that the government is intending to address this imbalance.
“Whilst it is encouraging that government is looking to attract foreign investment into infrastructure investment in the UK, it needs to do more to create a framework whereby UK financial institutions can also invest in long term infrastructure projects. There is no shortage of capital that companies are looking to invest and the government has to do more to ensure that this finds its way into the kind of key infrastructure projects that Nick Clegg refers to in his speech.
“Finally, the government has to resist attempts to hijack the proposed reforms of the planning system. For too long our cumbersome planning processes have held back both public and private investment in this country and the draft National Planning Policy Framework sets out a far more positive approach that will encourage the right kind of investments in the right places.’
Law firm Pinsent Masons partner Barry Francis was more encouraged: “The news on a renewed and focussed emphasis on infrastructure is heartening. The key to the effective delivery will be well structured and timely procurements which do not get bogged down in expensive delays and do not require unnecessary expenditure. The key is to create confidence in the bidding community that these transactions will happen and that the government is clear as to its expectations. This will require a clear commitment through all levels of the procurement function.”