‘Box Notes’ are short briefings included in a Minister’s red box, to bring them up to speed on a developing issue.
I’m writing to brief you on the conclusions of our latest policy enquiry into Infrastructure, Investment and Devolution. The key proposals are laid out in the summary which you’ll find attached to this box note on the CPF website, so I won’t repeat them all here, but there are four political strands that stand out. They are:
The enquiry wasn’t technically about levelling up, or rebalancing Britain’s economy, but that’s where we all went. For a Party that’s got free markets in the marrow of its bones, we clearly believe that wealth creation and opportunity need to be equally spread to people outside London and the southeast, particularly in the north.
It wasn’t all about roads, rail or power generation. Ahead of anything that involves hard hats or hi-vis jackets, we thought investment in better education and skills is most important of all, followed by affordable housing (including modern prefabs).
We like investment, but it’s got to be value for money. There’s a strong vein of scepticism about whether infrastructure projects move fast enough, given all the layers of government bureaucracy, or offer good enough value. The doubts are particularly strong around HS2, although whether the value-for-money concerns are because we are unsure how much intercity or commuter travel we’ll all be doing after COVID, or because of doubts about the business case more generally, isn’t clear, But a large minority of us think it should either be scrapped, or at least built from north to south (that rebalancing point again) rather than the other way around.
We’re green, or at least low-carbon. We like investment in hydrogen-fuelled cars, and in an upgraded and cleaner sewage system too. Plus small modular nuclear power stations for electricity generation as well.
As always, a more detailed private version of the report’s conclusions has gone to #10 Downing Street. We will be holding a virtual round table discussion of these conclusions with either #10 policy staff or Cabinet Ministers (or both) in due course, to develop some of these ideas further.
Best wishes & stay safe
John Penrose MP
Conservative Policy Forum Chair