Copper Account Manager, Ben Draper, takes at look at what we know of Corbyn’s plans for infrastructure so far…
Jeremy Corbyn has now fought off Owen Smith’s challenge for the Labour Leadership. With his mandate refreshed and his authority strengthened, the task of presenting an alternative proposition to a Conservative Government again falls to Corbyn and his party. What can the infrastructure sector expect to hear?
A key element of Corbyn’s economic policy is a National Investment Bank (NIB) with investment funds of £500 billion. This would, in his words, allow his Government ‘to bring our broadband, our railways, our housing and our energy infrastructure up to scratch’, by building one million new homes within five years, meeting a 65% renewable generation target by 2030 and bringing the railways back into public ownership.
Half of the one million homes to be delivered over five years will be Council houses. Local authorities would be able to borrow funds against their own housing stock to pursue this objective, which is expected to have a net cost to the taxpayer of around £10 billion per year. Notably, Corbyn also advocates the reintroduction of regional housebuilding targets.
Labour’s headline transport pledge is to renationalise the UK’s railways, creating a key electoral ‘dividing line’ between the Conservatives and Labour, and a policy which Labour believes will be popular with the travelling public. Bus service provision represents another important dividing line, with the intention to allow all local authorities to move away from franchised services and establish publicly-owned ‘municipal’ bus companies of their own. While public transport features prominently in his transport package, we have no clue yet how a Corbyn Government would tackle the national road network.
Similarly, his plans for the UK’s regional airports are not yet clear. He called for the exploration of spare airport capacity beyond the London area to meet the existing need in the south east, and advocates expanding Gatwick rather than Heathrow. This position has been questioned on the basis that his Shadow Chancellor and close ally, John McDonnell is fiercely opposed to Heathrow’s expansion as it lies within his constituency. However, Heathrow’s existing effect on London’s air quality is also cited as a reason, which is consistent with the environmentalism that is often promoted by Corbyn in other policy areas.
In order to meet his proposed renewable generation target, Corbyn’s NIB would support £300 million of renewable energy research and 300,000 new sector jobs. Tidal power research is expected to receive much of this input. Meanwhile, coal-powered energy would be phased out by ‘the early 2020s’ and shale gas fracking in the UK would be banned outright. Although Corbyn has historically objected to nuclear power – and personally criticised the Government decision to approve Hinkley Point C – Labour’s current position is to support the nuclear industry, although this is likely to be tested following Corbyn’s re-election.
These long-term changes would be underpinned by an industrial strategy. Although this does represent one area of consensus between Corbyn and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, she replaced the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy within days of taking office, whereas Corbyn favours reinstating DECC. He would also modify the Government’s Capacity Market with a Clean Power Mechanism that is more favourable to renewable energy generation.
Infrastructure is clearly high on Corbyn’s agenda with some policies in full view but there are many gaps in policy and detail yet to fill. His focus on giving the public a bigger role in creating the infrastructure we need in the future – such as community-led renewable energy projects – is to be welcomed. But if his party were to gain power, we would also hope to see his Government having a national conversation with its citizens about the benefits new infrastructure brings in improving our lives.