Infrastructure boost shows a welcome set of priorities

Morning View
Morning View

The chancellor intends to increase infrastructure spending by up to £5 billion over this parliament.

George Osborne plans to use cash from the sale of land, buildings and other state assets.

He talked yesterday about the “railways and the roads and the runways that are going to power our economy”.

This is a welcome statement of priorities, albeit against the backdrop of a regrettable missed opportunity in London.

Mr Osborne and David Cameron failed to give political backing to a new airport in the Thames estuary, a project that would have signalled Britain’s return to a mindset that led the world in terms of infrastructure in the 19th century. Instead, the chancellor and prime minister farmed out the decision on a badly needed new runway for southeast England to a commission that endorsed the fudge of Heathrow expansion.

The estuary plan, championed by London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, would have seen Heathrow closed and turned into much needed housing for tens of thousands of would-be residents of the capital. Meanwhile, the biggest and best airport in the world would have been built east of London.

After this failure, Mr Osborne’s announcement is a small move in the right direction again.

The chancellor has been at the forefront of the overdue and politically popular reform of the UK’s bloated welfare state. Billions of pounds that was squandered annually will now be saved thanks to the welfare cap and other crucial changes.

It is much easier for politicians to please voters by spending money on large groups of people – in the form of wages, welfare and pensions – than to spend it on infrastructure, which is vital, but less likely to win public approval.

But projects from the Jubilee Line extension to HS1 to Crossrail bring tangible benefits to the economy and to people’s lives, as well as creating jobs during their construction.

If only Stormont took the same approach, of ending welfare excess and using the saving to upgrade our rail and roads, such as the new dual carriageways to Larne and Carrick.