Five questions answered on the UK governments’ infrastructure plans

After Danny Alexander admitted to underspending on infrastructure over several decades, just how much do they expect to spend?

Today the government unveiled its infrastructure plans for the next two decades. We answer five questions on the announcements.

What is the big news from the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) announced today?

The most significant news includes the government selling off its 40 per cent stake in the Eurostar rail service, as reported by the BBC. What's more, the insurance industry, which isn’t traditionally a big infrastructure investor, is to invest £25bn in infrastructure over the next five years.

The government has already announced a £10m guarantee for new energy efficient lighting systems across car parks in the UK.

It has said it will also open a £10m competitive fund in early 2014 to test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas of the UK.

Plus it will build on the Spending Round commitment of £2.3bn capital investment for flood defences by developing a new long-term plan, including naming key projects by Autumn Statement 2014.

How much is expected to be spent over all?

About £375bn of investment is expected to be spent on energy, transport, communications, and water projects.

What has the government said?

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, told the BBC: "The most important thing we've done as a government is create an environment in which people want to come in and invest in British infrastructure."

But he admitted that the UK had "underinvested ... over several decades".

He added: "There are projects going on in every part of the country."

Lord Deighton said today 45 per cent of the projects that have been announced by the government since 2010 are under construction, with lots already completed.

What have the experts said?

Mat Riley, Head of Infrastructure at EC Harris told the Telegraph:

“Today’s revised infrastructure spending programme is, again, strong on headlines, but unclear on delivery. The government is working hard to attract investors such as the insurance funds, but the UK still does not have the right policy environment for these funds to be put to good use and make a real difference, which is compounding the problem.”

“Who would want to take the risk and invest in a nation that cannot even put together a coherent Energy Policy without fear of ridicule? Regulation is largely ineffective, and the balance of power now sits with asset owners and their investors, which means only one outcome for the consumer, and that is higher costs. Politicians are in denial, the real issue is how much cost consumers are ultimately going to bear, and by when.”

What has the opposition said?

Chris Leslie, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, speaking to the BBC said: "With the country facing a cost-of-living crisis we need to invest in infrastructure to create jobs, boost living standards, and strengthen our economy for the long-term."

He added that the government’s record on infrastructure had been "a complete failure".

"The Office for National Statistics says that infrastructure work is down 3.7 per cent in the last year, and fell by 10 per cent in 2012.”

Danny Alexander said the UK had "underinvested ... over several decades". Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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