When infrastructure is a waste of money

Infrastructure; if people and commerce are the lifeblood of our society, infrastructure are the veins through which they flow. Whilst I could hardly claim to be an expert in economics, I feel reasonably confident in asserting that a correlation exists between long-term growth in a country, and its level of investment in infrastructure. Of course, being economics, there is debate over things like the strength of that correlation and its return on investment, but it’s fundamentally accepted that the link exists.

Good infrastructure can be as simply as running water, sanitation and waste management, or as complex as roads, electricity grids and provision of the internet. Failure to invest can be catastrophic over the long-run, and lead to the degradation and collapse of social fabric.

Earlier this year, the UK Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), released their annual report on major projects undertaken between 2015 and 2016. The report, which provides details on the progress of government funded infrastructure projects, stated that only 7% of infrastructure projects are ‘highly likely to have a successful outcome’.

Consider that for a moment. Although only a forecast, this report is stating that more than 90% of government funded infrastructure projects are unlikely to be successful in achieving their goals. Surely for something as crucial as infrastructure, this shouldn’t be allowed to continue?

George Osbourne, for his faults, was right in championing the ‘Northern powerhouse’ concept during his time as Chancellor. For too long, London and the Home Counties have absorbed vast sums of investment and spending whilst the other regions of the country have struggled. Developing new infrastructure is essential to reversing the ‘North-South’ divide, but also has the potential to be a colossal waste of taxpayer’s money.

In theory, the announcement of High-Speed 2 (HS2) earlier this year should provide some measure of good news for those keen on infrastructure spending. But does it really represent good value for money?

According to the latest reports, HS2 is now predicted to cost £90 billion, creating links between London and major Northern cities such as Manchester and Leeds. Supporters of the plan argue that this investment will help to bridge the gap between London and the rest of the country and spur growth in North.

I’ve got to admit; I’m not entirely certain that this represents a great deal for the taxpayer.

By making it easier to commute to London, will this project not simply create a greater number of ‘commuter towns’, inflating property prices, but continuing to support the dominance of London in job creation and retention? What if the best workers in Manchester suddenly realise that they can get paid 3 times as much in London, without needing to live there? Is there not suddenly a risk of ‘brain drain’?

In my opinion, what the North needs is not better connections with London, but better local infrastructure. Improving roads, internet facilities and local town centres would be a good start, and I imagine you could do a lot with £55 billion pounds to spend.

Having lived in poor areas of Nottingham, in addition to well-heeled areas of London, I feel confident in saying that the lifestyle of London (minus the pollution, hideous prices and ludicrous system of commuting in cattle carts) can be replicated outside of the capital. Investing in schools and business grants could help job creation and spending a little on urban regeneration schemes could help to reduce depressed looking city centres.

According to this report, just £250 million could repair 4 million potholes, improving the quality of roads, and the government could spend a couple of billion on new schools to reduce class sizes and improve facilities, reducing stress for teachers and helping engagement and experience for students.

If I’m being honest, I would like to see more money invested in public transport, but not like this. Projected costs seem to be rising at an astronomical rate, demand for HS2 seem uncertain and there are a vast range of other infrastructure related projects which could be funded instead. Rather than turning our great Northern cities into lifeless feeders of labour for London, why not take this money and use it to take the best bits of London and spread them across the country?

Sign up to receive the latest content, fresh from the press.

I don’t spam! Read our disclaimer for more info.