David Cameron wanted to talk about fracking this week but, as is so often the case when it comes to energy and infrastructure, most of the hot air is emanating from Downing Street.
The government’s latest plan to get Britain building is just one of several attempts to mask ministers’ desperate failure to kickstart the road, rail and flood defence schemes that the nation needs.
Despite multiple infrastructure plans and reheated announcements, the truth is that infrastructure output has plunged under the coalition – down by 10.7 per cent since May 2010 according to the independent Office for National Statistics.
And John Cridland, director general of the CBI, is still quite rightly pointing out the lack of ‘diggers on the ground’.
So people will be understandably sceptical when David Cameron and George Osborne try to claim credit yet again for publishing the same list of construction projects.
In December last year the government produced an updated ‘infrastructure pipeline’. This included 646 projects, which ministers claimed would come to more than £375bn of investment.
This week, however, the prime minister and chancellor confirmed that just a third of these 646 projects will have started by the time of the general election – less than 10 per cent of the promised investment. It is a dismal record. Not a single one of the energy infrastructure projects are due to start in 2014-15. And just six energy projects are listed to complete in 2014-15.
This is despite the fact that in 2012 the government admitted the United Kingdom needs £110bn worth of energy infrastructure this decade.
This week’s update laid bare the extent to which investment decisions have been bungled by this government.
Several of its 40 ‘priority’ infrastructure projects, published in a list in November 2011, will not be delivered until after May 2015, despite the boast in the National Infrastructure Plan that ministers had ‘acted to resolve any barriers’.
Take, for example, the Lower Thames Crossing. Three options were laid out and ministers classed it as a ‘priority project’ in November 2011. More than two years have passed, however, and the government has still to decide on a preferred option.
Similarly, the handling of the plan to improve the A14 has been confused. In 2010 ministers claimed the scheme was ‘unaffordable’ and scrapped the plans of the last Labour government. Just a year later George Osborne changed his mind and revived it as a ‘key strategic project’ – but construction will not begin until 2016.
Three wasted years have now lapsed into four and there is no sign of George Osborne taking a long-term approach to investment.
In fact, he plans to cut the capital investment budget overall – a real terms fall of 1.7 per cent for 2015-16.
And on increasing house building – a vital part of how we will tackle the cost of living crisis and earn our way to higher living standards for all – this government has failed miserably. House building is at the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s.
A Labour government will instead raise housebuilding to 200,000 a year by 2020, which could create up to 230,000 jobs.
And we would set up a National Infrastructure Commission, as recommended by former Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt, to ensure we can better identify, plan and deliver our infrastructure needs for the long term.
The government’s inertia puts at risk Britain’s future prosperity and ability to compete on the global stage. There remains a yawning gap between propaganda and putting in place the road, rail, housing and flood defence schemes this country so badly needs.
So do not believe the government’s boastful press releases. As we have seen this week, David Cameron likes the hype and the high-vis jackets but he does not do delivery.
Chris Leslie is Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.