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24 April 2014
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They still care

It is notable – and hugely positive for the infrastructure industry – that the two top Tories used a transport project to effectively launch their election battle
As has been noted in recent days, the sight of David Cameron and George Osborne together anywhere other than Westminster has been a bit of a rarity during their time in office.

So the fact that the pair decided to launch the Dave ‘n’ George On Tour double act with a visit to an infrastructure project should be hugely encouraging for the infrastructure industry. It means that the country’s infrastructure – and the pipeline of projects in procurement – is likely to be at the top of the agenda when the firing pistol finally starts the race for Number Ten.

Because the prime minister and his Chancellor were not just taking the opportunity to see what the National Infrastructure Plan is doing in practice. They were getting in an early election pitch, arguing that the two of them could be trusted to deliver the economic growth that the country needs.

The fact that they chose infrastructure as the plank on which to sell themselves speaks volumes of their belief that this is one area in which they have both delivered (over 200 projects due to be completed in 2014-15, they reminded everyone), and can offer more in a Conservative-majority Parliament.

With Labour keen to show off their plans for a swathe of new housebuilding, and the Lib Dems seeking to take credit for the progress of the Top 40 priority projects through Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, the ground is clearly set for a major election battle over who can deliver infrastructure.

Some in the industry will inevitably groan that the high profile nature of infrastructure means it is in danger of being used as a political football. And it is true to say that while all politicians talk of the need for an independent assessment of the country’s infrastructure requirements, none seem wholly convinced by the idea of taking such decisions completely out of Parliament’s hands. Indeed, to do so might get more things done, but it would be seriously undermining the role of government and the accountability of such projects to ordinary people.

At the end of the day, though, it must surely be better for the infrastructure industry to know that the politicians care, rather than the sector be ignored by those who have the money and influence to get things done.

We can expect to see a lot more of Cameron and Osborne together over the months ahead. They won’t always choose infrastructure projects, but the fact that they did for the first should be a sign of hope for the industry that the sector remains important to the politicians.

And at least it wasn’t as cringe-inducing as the Tony ‘n’ Gordon outing that involved then-prime minister Blair buying an ice cream for his Chancellor.

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