Labour plans body for big projects

Andover Advertiser: Labour leader Ed Miliband will urge Scots to vote No to independence in September's referendum. Labour leader Ed Miliband will urge Scots to vote No to independence in September's referendum.

Labour will establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission if it returns to power, with the aim of ending a culture of "chronic short-termism" which Ed Miliband believes has left the UK lagging behind in areas like power generation, communications and transport links.

In a speech today, Mr Miliband will call for cross-party consensus on a system of long-term infrastructure planning and decision-making to ensure that Britain is equipped for success and businesses are able to plan for the future.

Former London Olympics supremo Sir John Armitt will publish draft legislation to set up the Commission, which was the key recommendation of his review of the country's infrastructure needs for Labour last year.

The Armitt Report said the new body should have a remit to identify the UK's infrastructure needs over the next 25-30 years and make recommendations to foster economic growth and maintain international competitiveness. An independent Commission would " make the current tendency for policy drift more difficult to sustain and mean that when a Government does change course, this is only done on the basis of sound evidence", he said.

In the latest of a series of interventions over the last few weeks intended to bolster Labour's business credentials, Mr Miliband is expected to say that the party's "central mission" in power will be to rebuild faith in both politics and markets by fostering "a new era of success" in which everyone has the chance to share in the country's prosperity.

But he will insist that the party will rely on "big reforms, not big spending" to fuel growth, jobs and profits.

Speaking to the Policy Network thinktank, Mr Miliband will say: "Nowhere is the failure of the ability to plan for the long-term clearer than in our infrastructure, where Britain lags far behind other countries.

"As Sir John Armitt says, the UK needs affordable clean energy, modern communication systems, flood defences that can cope with the effects of climate change and a transport system that can cope with ever-growing demand and which links business with markets and people with families, leisure and job opportunities.

"If we fail to meet these challenges, we will fail to grow our economy and fail to provide the quality of life that we would want for our children and our grandchildren.

"Today I am accepting Sir John's recommendation that we establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission to identify the UK's long-term infrastructure needs and hold governments to account.

"And I am calling on the other political parties to join us in accepting his recommendation because agreement is vital to delivering the long-term infrastructure business needs to succeed."

Aides said that Mr Miliband will use his speech to declare that Labour's reforms will tackle "deep-rooted problems which began before the recession and will not be solved simply by a belated return to growth".

"Unless we change the way we do things, we simply won't create the high-paying, high-skilled jobs needed to improve the condition of our country and the rewards of growth will be unfairly shared," the Labour leader will say.

"Labour will build a prosperity in which all can share fairly, right across Britain. And, in so doing, we can rebuild faith in business and in politics in Britain for the future.

"That is the central mission for the government I want to lead in 10 months' time. We cannot succeed by carrying on as we are or with big spending by government, but with reform - reform of the way governments work and reform of the way markets work. It is the way people will succeed. It is the way business will succeed. It is the way Britain succeeds.

"And the only way we can realise this mission is through your success - the great, dynamic businesses of our country being enabled to build the wealth, create the jobs and make the profits that will help them succeed. A clear mission for the country, a mission we can share, a One Nation mission which can tackle the big problems we face."

As Labour makes a bid to shake off the "anti-business" tag attached to it by opponents, Mr Miliband has already announced plans to devolve £30 billion of funding to local authorities to support growth in their areas; to create a "gold standard" qualification to match A-levels for vocational education; to reform finance and energy markets; and to create secure budgets for science and innovation.

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of manufacturers' organisation EEF, said: "There are signs that Labour is now starting to develop its plans for the forthcoming election and engage more positively with industry.

"The overwhelming priority for any future government review must be to set out a long-term vision for the economy and industry. It must include continuing with fiscal responsibility and re-balancing the economy towards trade and investment, supporting innovation and, making sure we produce the skilled employees industry desperately needs.

"Industry is also increasingly anxious about the real potential of a UK exit from the EU and Labour must start to set out clearly how it will manage Britain's relationship. This must include specifically how a potential future Labour government would work with our European partners to achieve the far-reaching reforms we urgently need, while keeping us at the heart of Europe in terms of membership and influence."

Dr Adam Marshall, executive director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, gave a cautious welcome.

"Businesses would support the creation of a National Infrastructure Commission if it delivers quicker decisions, more certainty for investors, and faster action on the ground," he said.

"However, we've been here before. Britain's creaking business infrastructure is the result of short-term thinking and constant u-turns by politicians of all parties.

"On aviation, roads, rail, energy generation and digital connectivity, we have a lot of ground to make up. A National Infrastructure Commission will only work if its assessments are not constantly undermined by Westminster petty politicking."

For the Conservatives, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: "It's the same old Labour, just offering more spending, more borrowing and more taxes. When even his own top adviser says he's not up to the job, it's clear Ed Miliband is too weak to take the difficult decisions needed to secure Britain's future.

"Rather than playing short-term political games with the new north-south railway - HS2 - Labour should back it, back HS3 in the North, and back our national infrastructure plan."

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna insisted: "We have been the most united Labour Party in opposition in a generation."

Playing down reports of a rift over business policy, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Miliband was "absolutely" pro-enterprise.

"You can't be anything other than a pro-business, pro-enterprise party," he said. "You can talk about building a fairer society all you like, and how you cut the pie and distribute it, but unless you grow the size of the pie first, then it's all rather academic."

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