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Labour peer Lord Adonis to head Osborne infrastructure body

A new body to plan infrastructure projects and chaired by the former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis is to be unveiled by the chancellor.

The announcement at the Conservative conference will see George Osborne promise to spend an extra £5bn over this Parliament on new projects.

In a speech later, he will say he plans to “shake Britain out of its inertia.”

Lord Adonis said that without “big improvements” in transport and energy “Britain will grind to a halt”.

The chancellor believes the work of the independent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) will prove vital to boosting the economy.

Major infrastructure projects will include London’s transport system and connections between cities in the north of England, funded by selling off land, buildings and other government assets.

Lord Adonis, policy chief in Tony Blair’s government before becoming transport secretary under Gordon Brown, has resigned the Labour whip and will sit as a crossbencher in the Lords as he takes on his new role.

The NIC, which will start work immediately, will produce a report at the start of each five-year Parliament containing recommendations of projects.

Crossrail constriction site
Image copyrightPA

Mr Osborne said Lord Adonis would be working in the “national interest” in his role.

Lord Adonis, a Social Democrat councillor and Liberal Democrat election candidate before joining Labour, said: “Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt.

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“Major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and building major new power stations span governments and Parliaments. I hope it will be possible to forge a wide measure of agreement across society and politics on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20 to 30 years.”

Mr Osborne is expected to tell the Conservative Party conference: “Where would Britain be if we had never built railways or runways, power stations or new homes? Where will we be in the future if we stop building them now?

“I’m not prepared to turn round to my children – or indeed anyone else’s child – and say ‘I’m sorry, we didn’t build for you.’ We have to shake Britain out of its inertia on the projects which matter most.”

‘Open to ideas’

Mr Osborne has also announced plans to combine 89 local authority pension funds in England and Wales into six regional funds in the hope it will encourage them to invest in major infrastructure projects.

The chancellor is expected to acknowledge in his speech that the idea for the NIC was first proposed by Labour in its manifesto for May’s general election.

George Osborne
Image copyrightReuters
Image captionThe chancellor said Lord Adonis would be working in the “national interest”

An aide to Mr Osborne said: “The chancellor is open to good ideas.”

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said Lord Adonis’s move was “a long way from a defection”, and that while it was embarrassing for Labour that he was resigning the whip he would remain a party member.

She added that it was worth noting that Lord Adonis had sat on the review for Labour that effectively set out the blueprint for the new commission.

A spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We have heard it all before from Osborne and the Conservatives on infrastructure and their record is one of complete failure to deliver.

“There is still nothing to indicate that the Tories understand the desperate need for serious long-term investment in infrastructure – and the real story of their conference remains their attack on working people through the cut on tax credits.”

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John Cridland, director-general of the CBI business lobby group, said: “Updating the UK’s infrastructure is critical to sustainable growth and productivity, and we’ve long called for an independent body to assess our long-term needs.”

He added: “But we must not duck the important infrastructure decisions that need taking now, particularly on expanding aviation capacity in the South East.”


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