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Government adviser blasts funding ‘short-termism and bid fatigue’

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The chief executive of the National Infrastructure Commission Phil Graham has hit out against the ‘fragmented and piecemeal’ system of funding programmes and grants, which he claims is inhibiting councils from developing long-term strategies.

Speaking today at the UK Infrastructure show at the NEC, Mr Graham said it was “scandalous” that the co-ordinated investment strategy, “which has been so successful in London”, is not being replicated in the Midlands and elsewhere.

The commission is an agency of the Treasury and provides advice to government on infrastructure investment. 

Although he praises projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail for addressing historic under-investment, Mr Graham claims that “instead of the genuine devolution and long-term funding that London has benefited from, the UK’s other cities face a fragmented and piecemeal system of funding programmes and grants – each requiring entry into a new bidding process, and adherence to a new set of priorities and requirements”.

“The inevitable result is short-termism and bid fatigue,” he said. ”When faced with so many other pressures, what rational authority would put serious time, effort and resources into developing a long-term strategy in that context?”

Mr Graham describes the Transforming Cities Fund, a £1.7bn pot which funds improved transport connections, as a “step forward” – but it still suffers from the same “short time horizons” as cash must be spent over what is effectively a three-year period, driving authorities to “short-term fixes like new carriages or schemes that happen to be already sitting on the shelf, rather than really starting to invest in the future”.

He claims that the urban transport recommendations in the National Infrastructure Assessment, which NIC published last year, would provide “proper devolution” – through five-year funding settlements for all of England’s cities, with local leaders free to decide how to spend the budgets. This would, he says, be ”the biggest step forward in devolution since the advent of the metro-mayors”.

Mr Graham is also calling for an additional £43bn in funding over the period to 2040, and a new requirement on city leaders to produce joined-up transport, housing and employment strategies.

”In the commission’s view, another extension of the Transforming Cities Fund would not, in itself, constitute an adequate response,” he added.

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