Speak up! Making the case for devolved infrastructure funding

By Sir John Armitt | 27 March 2019

Our cities are vibrant and exciting places to live – just look at Channel 4’s planned move to Leeds, or Liverpool’s waterfront as a go-to destination for residents and tourists alike; or consider the Commonwealth Games being hosted in Birmingham and the hub for the creative industries that has developed in Bristol. 

But as more of us move to make the most of this, cities north and south face the challenges of population growth – chief among them increased congestion, impacting on quality of life and inhibiting economic growth. Often, the solutions to this won’t be found in Whitehall, but in city halls around the country. But for these ideas to be put into practice, you as local leaders will need long-term funding certainty, so you can make the long-term plans you know will make a difference – something we at the National Infrastructure Commission want to see happen. It’s why we are this week starting our work with councils as they act now to make the most of the opportunities this could bring.

In July, we published our National Infrastructure Assessment – the first ever for the UK and the first of its scope and scale in the world. Among our recommendations to government, we proposed that Metro Mayors and local leaders should develop and implement long-term and integrated strategies for improving local transport, in a way that also boosts job opportunities and delivers much-needed new homes.

We want to see ministers agreeing significant new funding for major infrastructure programmes in the fastest-growing and most congested cities. And we want to see devolved transport budgets for all cities to ensure these plans can be delivered. Taken together, this would mean cities would benefit from a £43billion boost in funding up to 2040, on top of current spending levels.

This long-term planning combined with significant investment could be of considerable benefit to the country as a whole and not just our cities. Anyone trying to drive across the country will have experienced the frustration of sitting in traffic jams on the outskirts of urban areas, even if they are just trying to pass around the city.

And with 60 per cent of all jobs and nearly three quarters of all knowledge-intensive business services jobs such as research, design, law and accountancy in our cities, this issue must be tackled both for the benefit of those simply looking to get from A to B, and for the benefit of our local and national economies.

That’s why following on from our National Infrastructure Assessment, we have now launched our Next Steps for Cities programme, through which we’ll be hosting a round of events that will take us around the country, offering knowledge-sharing opportunities to councils representing our 45 biggest cities. I’ll be attending the first of these in Birmingham today (Wednesday), which will offer participants the chance to examine the fundamentals of designing an integrated infrastructure plan. I look forward to starting the vital process to ensure senior leaders in those local authorities can benefit from the expertise and experience of their counterparts elsewhere. 

Invitations will go out shortly for events taking place in April and June, and we’re very keen to see representatives from as many cities as possible – large and small, in every region of the country.

On top of this, five cities and city regions – Basildon, Derby, Exeter, Liverpool City Region and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority – have been selected to work with us, to benefit from expert advice as they develop their long-term strategies and helping us to learn lessons that other cities can use. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be holding challenge sessions with each of them as they continue this work, ably supported by members of our Commission.

This work is critical to demonstrating the real impact that adopting our recommendations could make. With the government having committed to responding to our National Infrastructure Assessment through a dedicated National Infrastructure Strategy later this year, we look forward to seeing how these proposals could be a key part of that. Already these have secured significant support, including from the metro mayors, and from the business community such as the chambers of commerce in London, Bristol and Manchester. 

But, if these recommendations are to become a reality, we will also need the support of councils across the country to make it happen, making the case clearly and regularly to ministers and MPs from across the political spectrum that we need investment in our infrastructure, and that the recommendations in our Assessment for cities offer the chance to achieve that for the benefit of communities North and South. 

Key to the successful implementation of these proposals will be to empower our city leaders, ensuring you have the funding certainty and the powers needed to deliver the transport improvements, employment opportunities and much-needed new homes that that you know will make a real and lasting difference for your communities.”

Sir John Armitt is chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission. Established in 2015, it offers independent and impartial advice to government on meeting the UK’s future infrastructure needs.

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Infrastructure Economic growth Transport Fiscal devolution