Monty Python fans should stand by for a cameo role from a Machine That Goes Ping tomorrow, as chancellor George Osborne unveils his 2015-16 spending round. I refer to the microwave oven, because I can guarantee that almost every infrastructure project he trumpets as evidence that the government is investing in economic growth will already have been committed to, with budget in place. Long out of the fridge and beginning to look stale.
Why am I so sure? If yesterday’s preview by Andrew Sparrow in The Guardian is anything to go by, Osborne is going to put the Mersey Gateway bridge at the heart of his capital spending showcase. This is a project he announced back in 2010, as part of his spending review. It had already been approved by the previous government (in 2006!) but needed a nod from the coalition. Fair enough. But then he re-announced the project in 2011, forcing procurement of the contract to wait until he had dropped his official blessing into his speech at the Conservative Party conference. Now he is going to announce it yet again, even though it already has a preferred bidder (picked in May, one month before the official announcement) and a slightly puzzling offer of a government loan guarantee.
Other reheated projects to look out for include:
- High Speed 2 (planned by previous Labour govt, promised by Conservatives before 2010 election, green-lighted in October 2010 and again in January 2012)
- Widening and tolling of the A14 Rugby-Felixstowe highway (promised by previous government, project scrapped and replacement sought by government in 2011; expansion with tolling confirmed July 2012)
- Electrification of railway lines (Great Western, Midland Main Line, Transpennine Line) announced on March 2011, July 2012 and November 2011 respectively (see links)
- Lower Thames Crossing (consultation on options launched May 2012)
If there are any totally new infrastructure projects, or approvals for projects whose business case or funding hasn’t previously been approved, that cost over £50 million, I will eat a wad of toilet paper.