Business leaders urge next government to focus on infrastructure investment

Henri Murison

More than 30 Northern business leaders have written to the main political parties urging them to “recognise the importance of infrastructure investment.”

Signatories include former Siemens boss Jürgen Maier CBE, Vice-Chair, Northern Powerhouse Partnership & Co-Founder, vocL, Chris Oglesby, Chief Executive, of property giant Bruntwood, Chris Woodroofe, Managing Director, Manchester Airport, Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and Henri Murison, Chief Executive, Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

They warn that the current system for infrastructure investment is broken, and needs fixing, or the country faces the consequence of “higher borrowing for the decades to come”.

They write: “Today, a pound on infrastructure is treated the same as a pound on benefits.

“Building a new mass transit system is accounted for the same as if the Department for Transport had spent it on stationary. The rules of the game are broken, and we need a stronger Office for Budget Responsibility to help sort out the mess we are in.”

They add: “The National Infrastructure Commission, from energy to roads and railways, has given us a strategy and now the next government should go out and build on it with a new National Infrastructure Strategy, based on the existing fiscal envelope already agreed.

“Having now opened a Leeds base, and with its strong Chair and Commissioners, this institution – which was originally proposed by Labour in opposition, and set up by George Osborne in government – is the right platform to build on.”

They highlight the mess surrounding the region’s rail system and the failure, over many years, to fix it.

“On Northern Powerhouse Rail there is cross party agreement today. However, since it was first promised 10 years ago, we have had too many setbacks and reviews.

“Bradford and Hull were on the map, then they were off it, and now they are back on it. For one day last autumn the freight diversion by Leamside was funded. By Question Time the next evening it was gone.

“We need to stop changing our minds as a country, commit to a scheme, and focus on delivering it. That should begin with passage of the existing Hybrid Bill covering the first part of the route between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport, within a year.

“This should happen in parallel with rapid progress designing the new line to Liverpool and be followed as quickly as possible with progress on the rest of the route, as well as on unresolved issues our Metro Mayors have been working on, like Manchester to Birmingham capacity.”

They add: “The leading economists in the field know poor transport is holding back regional growth. Industrial Strategy is vital to our country, and when it was last pursued we started to see real benefits. We need to maximise the benefit of every pound of taxpayers’ and private investors’ money.”

The letter goes on: “Whether it be building trains in Goole and Newton Aycliffe, bigger and bigger blades in Hull or the components for factory-made Small Modular Reactors in Sheffield, investment in transport and energy infrastructure can create jobs not just in the North, but across the whole United Kingdom.

“On the other hand, without progress on infrastructure like for transferring captured carbon to store offshore, from the Mersey to the Humber, we are putting jobs in key industries at risk.”

Northern Powerhouse Partnership chief executive, Henri Murison, said: “We need to shift our mindset when it comes to infrastructure, thinking beyond short-term election cycles and moving towards a long-term strategy.

“This means getting on with building new rail lines across the North, pipelines to carry carbon emissions out to sea, and small modular reactors to deliver energy security.

“Of course the end result matters but you can’t underestimate the number of UK jobs this would create across manufacturing and the wider supply chain.”