Utility Week

UTILITY Week 9th October 2015

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6 | 9TH - 15TH OCTOBER 2015 | UTILITY WEEK People & Opinion Time to get serious with infrastructure The Infrastructure Commission could play a vital role in the successful delivery of future projects, but only if it is backed up by a stable policy framework. View from the top Tom Greatrex, former shadow energy minister P oliticians are, of course, political, and seeking advantage over your prin- cipal opponents is part and par- cel of politics. Although it was inaccurately spun as a defection (temporarily stepping down from the Labour whip in the House of Lords is exactly what Chris Smith as chair of the Environment Agency and Jeff Rooker at the Food Standards Agency did to signal political neutrality while holding those posts), George Osborne's appointment of former Labour cabinet member Andrew Adonis to lead an independent Infrastructure Commission may be a sign of that rare phenom- enon in politics – an idea that most agree makes sense. John Armitt's review of infra- structure, undertaken on behalf of Ed Balls and the Labour treasury team before the general election, recommended the new commission. A body independ- ent of politics, to determine pri- orities and press the government to decide, was deemed crucial to the successful delivery of large infrastructure projects and was part of Labour's manifesto. While David Cameron said it wasn't needed, Osborne now seems to have recognised the significance of the intent behind the policy and the urgency of the case. Much of our infrastructure needs to be renewed. There is a continuing need not only to rebalance the economy secto- rally, but also geographically away from the south-east of Eng- land. This is as true in transport and housing as it is in energy and water. There have rarely been better economic circum- stances to make the investment while capital is available and relatively affordable. With the availability of new technology to make grids more efficient and flexible, the appall- ing standard of energy efficiency of much of our building stock, and the need for low carbon gen- eration to replace ageing plant – in energy alone, there is much to do. While it is an unfair reflection that politicians don't like making decisions, it is true that political cycles make it difficult for gov- ernments to take long-term deci- sions for which they may derive no immediate benefit. The temp- tation is to delay what is difficult and look only to the next elec- tion. That oen means limited choices, at higher costs, at a later date, for which the taxpayer and consumer will ultimately foot the additional bill. Extending the horizons of government and giving investors a sense that there is long-term commitment, is part of the pic- ture. So, too, is giving trustees of pension funds the confidence that investing in infrastructure projects here is in the interests of their scheme's members. Despite Danny Alexander mak- ing noises about this when he was in the Treasury, the record of UK pension schemes invest- ing in infrastructure here is poor. Osborne's other announce- ment of bundling up schemes into larger units for investment might give them scale, but that is not the only barrier to making investment decisions: so, too, is the high risk profile as a result of sudden surprise changes in the government's policy framework. Without clarity of intent and predictability of policy, then many of those investments will not even be contemplated. In energy policy, the driving force for the latest succession of sud- den changes that have under- mined investor confidence has been the very same Osborne. There is always the risk with his known delight in political chess moves that Osborne is more interested in the stunt than the substance of his new take on infrastructure policy and Adonis' appointment. I hope that suspi- cion is ill-founded and he now understands the need for a sta- ble policy framework alongside the independent commission. If so, not only will many welcome a Conservative government imple- menting a Labour policy, but we could begin to make progress towards meeting our significant national infrastructure needs. "I am proud to have steered the Energy Systems Catapult through set-up since September 2014" Nick Smailes, interim chief executive of the Energy Systems Catapult. Smailes recently handed over leadership of the innovation hub to Philip New, former BP Alternative Energy boss, who has been appointed permanent chief executive. Utility Week Awards The shortlist has been revealed for the Utility Week Awards 2015. See inbound supplement for details.

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