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BCC Budget Submission: Time to end our ‘make-do and mend’ approach to infrastructure

Ahead of the Chancellor’s Budget announcement on Wednesday 8 July, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is urging the government to commit to rebuilding Britain’s infrastructure, bringing to an end our ‘make-do and mend’ culture.

The BCC’s submission highlights that a lack of investment in infrastructure capacity and maintenance – across transport, energy and digital – is hampering business growth and costing jobs.

Public infrastructure investment has fallen noticeably since the 1970s, despite the UK National Infrastructure Plan identifying around 650 projects required in the next 15 years. Britain also lags behind other developed countries for quality of infrastructure, ranking only 27th in the World Economic Forums’ Quality of Overall Infrastructure table. The UK needs to be in the top 15 by 2020 if it is to achieve the government’s aspiration to become the richest country in the G7, per capita, by 2030.

Businesspeople across the UK are concerned that government spending remains too focused on areas of short-term economic benefit and political convenience, instead of on assets that have a lasting economic impact. The BCC calls for the government to sharpen its focus on growth and put infrastructure measures, capable of boosting productivity, at the heart of the economy.

The BCC submission proposes five key measures* to address this:

• Complete the review and reform of the compulsory purchase process by 2017/18 – the BCC urges the government to speed up the delivery of important projects by increasing compensation for people subject to compulsory purchase orders to 150% of the open market value of the property.
• Rapid action to green-light new aviation capacity following publication of the Airports Commission’s final report and recommendation.
• Deliver promised investments in road and rail schemes of national importance.
• Create a new independent body to decide the UK’s infrastructure needs.
• Remove investment relating to the delivery of the national infrastructure plan from the national debt target.

Commenting, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce said:

“The UK must get to grips with a huge investment challenge over the next decade – ageing road, rail and energy networks need upgrading and replacing and more houses need to be built to meet demand.

“Businesses rely on transport networks to move people and goods, digital and wireless connectivity for selling and buying online and energy infrastructure to keep production lines and technology running.  Failure to invest in capacity and maintenance is hampering business growth and costing jobs.

“Britain has relied on a ‘make-do and mend’ approach for far too long, but this is simply not acceptable. While our competitors across the world are making serious, sustained investment towards infrastructure, in many cases we rely on patched up systems built in the ‘70s. It’s for this reason that we languish so far down the international league table for quality of infrastructure, as well as investment. Unless the UK overhauls its lacklustre approach to managing infrastructure and gets serious about investment, we risk falling behind in the global race.

“We need the government to make irreversible commitments to new airport capacity and nationally significant road and rail improvements. As well as establishing a national board to oversee the delivery of projects, the government should increase compensation for people subject to compulsory purchase orders to make the system fairer and speed up the delivery of projects that help strengthen the economy.

“Businesses support the government’s goal of deficit reduction, but it must be achieved without detriment to growth. We want this Parliament to be defined by growth and to enable that we need to invest in our infrastructure.

“A world class economy needs world class infrastructure – and if delivered, it will be a triple win for business, jobs and government.”