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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.