Speech by the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Sassoon on inward investment in Infrastructure to the Global Investor Conference

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.

I want to spend a few minutes talking about the UK infrastructure opportunity.

Many of you are already suppliers, operators, or investors in UK infrastructure.

And I know that others of you are looking at opportunities here. So I want to explain why UK infrastructure is, indeed, the right strategic choice.

And to do that, I just want you to remember five dates:

1896… 1908… 1948… 2012… and… 2052.

You will have spotted the topical connection between at least four of these dates.

So what do each of these years say about investment in UK infrastructure?

  • 1896 stands for innovation
  • 1908 stands for security and reliability
  • 1948 stands for the need for infrastructure
  • 2012 stands for commitment to delivery
  • 2052 stands for a vision for the future

Five Olympic dates which make a compelling case for UK infrastructure.

Let me explain.

1896 was the year of the first modern Olympics. The year in which Glasgow built the world’s third underground system - after London had pioneered underground railways thirty years earlier.

1896 was the year in which the Welshman, William Preece, first introduced Marconi’s wireless telegraph to the general public.

And 1896 was the year in which an Englishman, Walter Arnold, received the world’s first ever speeding fine… for driving at terrifying four times the speed limit. Yes 8 miles per hour.

Today - not wireless telegraphy but superfast broadband and a new national supercomputing network.

Not underground railways but underground carbon storage.

So, innovation in UK infrastructure in 1896 - innovation in UK infrastructure in 2012.

In 1908, the Olympic Games came to London for the first time.

But the UK was a very different place in 1908 sweeping reforms to welfare, high profile political protests, and debates around reform of the House of Lords - so not at all like the UK today.

In 1908, London had the finest and most comprehensive sewerage system in the world - 21,000 kilometres of tunnel that could comfortably serve up to 4 million inhabitants - over double the population of the city that was then the largest in the world.

And more than 100 years on, that network is still the backbone of London’s water system.
And it is still delivering a return for investors in Thames Water one hundred years on.

Investors like the CIC - whose investment in Thames Water is their first significant European venture…

And, critically, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, whom I am pleased to see here today.

When we build infrastructure in the UK we build it well and build it to last…

And with investors supported by one of the strongest regulatory and legal systems in the world.

When you invest in the UK you know your money is protected for the long-term and that your return is reliable.

The regulatory regime in water, for example, that governs the investment we have seen from ADIA and CIC, is rated “triple A” by the credit rating agencies.

That is the message of 1908.The UK was and is the safe long term home for infrastructure investment.

So to 1948 and London’s second Olympic Games…

London stepping in to deliver at the eleventh hour after a twelve year gap in the Games.

In 1948, the tough economic climate at the time dominated the headlines…

With the event earning nicknamed ‘the Austerity Games’…

So again, nothing like today…

In 1948, a multi-billion rail investment programme was underway…

Providing employment to ease the post war slump…

Repairing and upgrading the rail system.

The programme replaced the UK’s fleet of steam trains with upgraded diesel and electric trains.

As we needed to modernise our transport and power systems then, so we need to modernise them now…

As demonstrated by the £9.4 billion of rail upgrades we announced just last week…

Including significant investment in electrification…
And in increasing capacity.

On present plans, we will support almost £22 billion of rail investment in the four financial years between 2015 and 2019.

And almost beneath our feet, the tunnelling has started on the £14.5 billion Crossrail project…

The largest urban transport project in Europe. 

So, in 1948 as in 2012 a huge ongoing need to rebuild and expand the UK’s infrastructure.

And now to 2012… and London’s third Olympic Games.

And also to this Government’s priority and focus on delivering our infrastructure plans.
That is why infrastructure is a key focus of the conference this morning.

That is why we published the UK’s first ever National Infrastructure Plan…

With over £250 billion of identified projects across energy, transport, communications and environment to be delivered to 2015 and beyond.

And we have established a new Cabinet Committee solely focused on delivering this plan.

The Prime Minister himself has requested regular updates from me on some of the key projects - such is the Government’s determination to deliver on our ambitious plans for UK infrastructure.

Only last week, we announced that we would make available up to £40 billion of Government guarantees to underpin the financing of major infrastructure projects.

Using the strength of the Government’s own balance sheet to help the private sector finance UK projects in these very difficult financing markets.

And we have cut our fifty year-old planning rules from over 1,000 pages to 50…

And the Government has set a planning guarantee to ensure no planning application takes longer than a year.

That is 2012.

A Government committed from the top to ensuring the UK remains one of the best places in the world to invest in infrastructure.

A Government which will see our infrastructure plans delivered.

So what of 2052?

Well, my dream is that the Olympic Games will be back in the UK in 2052.

But about the continuing roll-out of UK infrastructure we can be certain. We don’t need to dream.

So what is our vision for UK infrastructure in 2052?

A hub airport that is still one of the best in the world.

A Y shaped High Speed rail network that will link London and the North.

A balanced energy generation mix, with renewables and carbon capture and storage.

A fleet of nuclear power stations in the middle of their working lives. 

A cleaner River Thames in the heart of London through completion of the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

Almost every car and van an ultra-low emission vehicle.

And Europe’s finest superfast broadband network.

And these are the projects that I am confident will be largely funded, built and operated by investors and corporations in this room…

As we roll out our plans over the next decade and more…

Benefitting both the UK and those of you who invest in it.

Thank you.