A national commission on infrastructure, which will oversee spending on major projects such as road, rail and flood defence improvements, was launched by chancellor George Osborne today (October 30) in York.
The launch of the commission comes in the wake of the previous coalition government’s failed record on infrastructure spending – since Osborne took the reins as chancellor in 2010, promising to spend on major projects to jumpstart an economic recovery, infrastructure investment has plummeted by more than 5 per cent.
Chaired by former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis, the commission will oversee a £100bn budget to be spent by 2020 and will prioritise projects such as improving connections between northern cities, London transport, and energy.
“This is about jobs, growth, living standards and ensuring Britain is fit for the future,” Osborne said at the launch at the National Railway Museum in York. “Infrastructure isn’t some obscure concept, it’s about people’s lives, economic security and the kind of country we want to live in.
“That’s why I’m determined to shake Britain out of its inertia on infrastructure and end the situation where we trail our rivals when it comes to building everything from the housing to the power stations that our children will need.”
But Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke argued that any successful infrastructure plans must include a commitment to the UK steel industry, now on the brink of collapse.
“If George Osborne is to be true to his word that the commission is about jobs, growth and making Britain fit the future, then he will make sure that it pursues a policy that puts British steel and British manufacturing at the heart of major infrastructure projects,” he said.
On the brink
“The failure of the government to intervene to support the steel industry and develop an active industrial strategy has left the industry on the brink.
“If the commission repeats that failure and refuses to adopt ‘a made in Britain, bought by Britain’ approach then it would be the final insult to steel and manufacturing communities across the UK and undermine George Osborne’s hopes on jobs and growth,” Burke added.
Labour MPs echoed Burke’s call to the government to support the steel industry through its infrastructure projects.
Labour MP Nic Dakin for Scunthorpe, a community now reeling from the announcement of 1,200 job losses in the steel industry, commented on Twitter this afternoon regarding the new infrastructure commission.
“‘We must be the builders,’ say the Tories,” he tweeted. “But if they don’t act quickly they won’t have any UK steel to build with.”
Dakin’s comments follow Labour MP Dan Jarvis’ letter to Lord Adonis, calling on the new infrastructure commission chair to act.
“George Osborne told the Tory conference they were ‘the builders’ but this is a cowboy effort,” Jarvis said. “The Chancellor needs to show that his rhetoric will be matched by reality.”
More jobs lost
The launch of the infrastructure commission comes against a backdrop of another spate of steel job losses, as Caparo administrators confirmed this afternoon (October 30) that more jobs would go in the West Midlands and the North East.
The closure of Caparo’s Darlaston site and loss of 119 jobs is yet another body blow for manufacturing in the Wolverhampton area and comes on top of the announced closure of Goodyear with the loss of 300 jobs. A further 39 jobs are to go from Caparo in the West Midlands at its precision tubes division in Oldbury.
In Hartlepool the closure of Caparo’s forging facility will result in up to 70 jobs going, while in Wrexham 10 jobs are being cut at Caparo wire, taking the total job losses confirmed to date in the group to 238.
While the UK government has so far refused to intervene as the steel industry crumbles, a government an ocean away has stepped in to help aerospace manufacturer Bombadier, which operates a site in Belfast and is among the largest single employers in Northern Ireland.
After the Canadian multinational company Bombadier experienced delays in generating sales for its CSeries jet, the company was under intense financial pressure, leading many to speculate about the manufacturer’s future.
But the Quebec government announced today (October 30) a $1bn cash injection in a joint-venture with the company to help the aerospace giant weather the storm.
“We are hopeful that this investment by the Quebec government will give Bombardier the time to achieve its sales targets for the CSeries and will safeguard the long-term employment of the workforce [in Northern Ireland],” said Unite regional coordinating officer Davy Thompson.
“Unite commends the Quebec government on their willingness to intervene to support this strategically important industry,” he added. “Their action demonstrates how government can safeguard employment and support the manufacturing sector.”
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