‘Infrastructure revolution’ at Conservative Party Conference

The ICE Policy and Public Affairs team attended this year's Conservative Party Conference in Manchester to promote the work of the Institution to politicians and industry.

Boris Johnson at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference. Image credit PA Media
Boris Johnson at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference. Image credit PA Media
  • Updated: 04 October, 2019
  • Author: Amy Cox, Public Affairs Manager

The first thing attendees were confronted with when entering the secure area to this year’s Conservative Party Conference was a huge poster stating ‘Get Brexit Done’. And this message really was at the core of every Conservative MP and Ministers' speeches, fringe events, and receptions.

But despite this, there were plenty of opportunities to talk about key domestic policies, with a big focus this year on infrastructure.

Infrastructure investment

Speaking before his speech at the Conservative Party conference, the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, said: “Investment in our infrastructure will be key to making the next decade one of renewal — boosting our economy and making life easier for people all across the country.

"That’s why I am announcing new investment in roads, bus services and broadband today, the first step in our plans to deliver an infrastructure revolution.”

We expect to see more announcements on the 'infrastructure revolution' in the Autumn Budget, particularly as the government's National Infrastructure Strategy is due to be published alongside it, in response to the National Infrastructure Commission's National Infrastructure Assessment.

ICE looks what should be in the National Infrastructure Strategy in a recent report and believes it is an opportunity for the government to set out a strategic approach to UK infrastructure provision to address the increasing complexity of the UK’s infrastructure needs.

Roads

The Chancellor has also promised £25bn for England's roads as part of his “infrastructure revolution”.

Javid has announced that 14 of England's major roads will be upgraded, from the "national roads fund" which was set aside provisionally by his predecessor.

However, as revenues from Vehicle Excise Duty and fuel duty fall in the future - as a result of increased electric vehicle (EV) sales - it's imperative that alternative funding models, such as pay as you go, are brought in line in order to secure long-term investment in England’s motorway network.

ICE’s paper Pay As You Go – Achieving Sustainable Roads Funding in England states why a replacement for road-related taxes, which safeguards funding of road infrastructure, should be in place by 2030, before revenues from fuel duty decline significantly, or connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) become commonplace.

Broadband

He added an emphasis on broadband rollout: “We [the UK] have fallen behind many European countries on the next generation of technology... so I can announce we are committing £5billion to support full-fibre rollout to the hardest to reach 20% of the country”. 

The secretary of state responsible for this rollout, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, spent her time at the conference talking about the importance of this rollout, and how it will enable the UK’s vision of becoming the leader of CAVs.

Other benefits of the rollout were discussed at Openreach’s fringe event, including from Kulveer Ranger, Senior Vice-President, Strategy and Communications for Atos UK&I, who spoke at length about the job creation and boost to the GDP of the UK if the right eco-system is in place to enable this to happen.

ICE’s latest Insight Paper, due to be published this autumn, examines the rollout of full fibre broadband, providing background, benefits, and potential drawbacks and concerns about its progress, while also examining potential alternatives to how it can be delivered.

Housing

It was interesting to note that the issue of housing was less of a prominent feature at this year’s conference.

May’s speech at Conference as prime minister last year mentioned ‘housing’ 13 times, compared to Boris’ 2019 speech, which mentioned housing three times. This shows a clear difference in their priorities at the moment.

The Chancellor did say that “we’re on track to increase housing supply to its highest level since 1970. But… we need to do so much more.”

While the new-build targets are not currently being reached, it is important that what is built considers infrastructure as part of the development, including, transport links and digital connectivity across the country.

ICE’s paper State of the Nation 2019: Connecting infrastructure with housing has 10 recommendations that, taken together, can bring about a broad reform to the way infrastructure is delivered with housing, while taking advantage of the technological and climate-led opportunities to come.

Net-zero target

Achieving the net-zero carbon target is still a key priority for the government.

The industry minister revealed that his department were focused on developing a "route map" on how the government will help support the manufacturing industry in its bid to hit net-zero by 2050.

Speaking at a Policy Connect fringe event, sponsored by High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVM), Siemens and ABB, Nadhim Zahawi MP said a focus on clean growth would be an “umbrella that encapsulates” all policy development going forward.

ICE’s Policy Team will be focussing on the government’s net-zero target in upcoming papers.

So, while the focus of this year’s Conservative Conference was to ‘get Brexit done’, there was still a business-as-usual feel, with ministers plugging their own department’s priorities throughout, and the ‘infrastructure revolution’ remaining a key point of the discussions; a message that ICE’s Policy and Public Affairs team have been focussing on despite the Brexit noise.

And while a possible general election may be on the cards soon, we hope that the government uses the opportunity of its upcoming National Infrastructure Strategy to set out a strategic approach to UK infrastructure provision to address the ever increasing complexity of its infrastructure needs. This will ensure that society gets the infrastructure it needs and can trust it will be delivered.

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