Concerns raised as UK Infra Commission loses statutory promise

Industry players fear the advisory infrastructure committee will lack teeth after Theresa May’s new government confirmed plans to shelve its statutory status.

The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission has received confirmation from the Chancellor that it will be established on a permanent basis.

As part of the move, the NIC – originally founded a year ago – has agreed on a charter with the UK government which will see it deliver a national infrastructure assessment once in every Parliament.

However, the Treasury confirmed that original plans set out in the Queen’s Speech in May to establish the NIC on a statutory basis will no longer go ahead.

“The government consulted earlier this year on establishing the Commission using primary legislation,” Simon Kirby, economic secretary to the Treasury, said in a statement to the House of Lords. “The government considers that the Commission can achieve the same objectives without legislation.”

The decision brought criticism from various quarters, including from the British Chambers of Commerce, which said the move “raises concerns” for those working in the sector.

“The fact that the NIC will report directly to [the Treasury] – rather than being independent from it – raises the question of whether it will have the latitude to propose bold, independent schemes that lead Budget announcements, particularly projects that are urgent business priorities, including investment in the country’s ageing road, rail and digital infrastructure,” Mike Spicer, director of research and economics at the body, said in a statement.

“The ultimate purpose of the Commission is to develop and promote a long-term, stable vision of the UK’s infrastructure needs, which goes well beyond the period of this government or the next. It remains to be seen whether its status gives it the freedom to do the job it was created for.”

The NIC is scheduled to come into force in January 2017. In the meantime, the Treasury will be kicking off a process to find a new permanent chair and new additional commissioners.

In the interim, Lord Adonis continues his role as chair of the Commission. Sir John Armitt, previously a commissioner at the NIC, has been appointed as interim deputy chair of the Commission.

“[The] announcement is a big step towards providing the commission with the independence it needs to do the work,” Lord Adonis said in a statement. “Now it is vital that we get the details right to ensure that the NIC has everything it needs to get on with the job.?”