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Infrastructure commission to be a permanent body as Wales proposes its own version

Published: Thursday, 20th October 2016

The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission is to be established as an executive agency of the Treasury in January 2017, with its own budget, freedom and authority…

Ministers have decided that the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is to be established as an executive agency of the Treasury in January 2017. It will have its own budget, freedom and authority, insists the administration.

The government and NIC have agreed a charter. The government has committed to responding to NIC recommendations, aiming for six months with a year as a long stop. Interestingly if it disagrees with the NIC, it undertakes to make an alternative proposal.

For its part the NIC has accepted to deliver a National Infrastructure Assessment and specific studies set by the government.

The government has called for ideas for the commission’s next study following its first three: which looked at the benefits of Crossrail 2, transforming Northern connectivity and, finally, smart power.

Also promised by the government is an open competition for the commission’s first permanent chair and new additional commissioners. Sir John Armitt has agreed to be interim Deputy Chair of the NIC with immediate effect.

The original expectation was that the commission would have become a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) set up by law.

Infrastructure planning guru Angus Walker from law firm BDB said: “an executive agency is simply an emanation of the department whose agency it is. If it gets judicially reviewed, it will be the Treasury that is in the dock, not the NIC. This will give the NIC the appearance at least of less independence than it would have had as an NDPB.

“Having said all that, I am optimistic that the NIC will still be able to carry out its work effectively. There is no suggestion its funding is under threat, indeed its membership is to be expanded, and the government will cooperate with its production of its first National Infrastructure Assessment, at least, so it should be secure for a couple of years and probably more.”

Meanwhile in a separate but related move the Welsh administration has begun consulting on establishing its own National Infrastructure Commission for Wales.

This new Commission is set to be up and running in the next 12 months and is intended to inform and strengthen decision making around major projects in Wales. It will provide technical expert advice on decisions around all economic and environmental infrastructure in Wales including energy, transport, water and sewerage, drainage, digital communications and flood management. 

It will publish an annual report on its work as well as undertake individual commissioned projects and will also work alongside the UK Infrastructure Commission where responsibilities interact.

However, the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan would continue to be set by the Welsh Government, informed by the work of the new Commission.

Read the news story from HM Treasury.

Read the BDB blog by Angus Walker

Roger Milne