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Government promises to 'accelerate' infrastructure spending

Major infrastructure projects including rail, road and high-speed broadband will be prioritised to boost the economy, the deputy prime minister has said.14 Sep 2011

In a speech on UK economic growth to the London School of Economics, Nick Clegg promised that the Government would "put its foot on the accelerator" to deliver infrastructure commitments and stimulate growth.

"Whatever the problem is – regulation, funding, procurement, planning – if we can help unblock it, we will," Clegg said.

Up to 40 of the biggest infrastructure projects including increasing the availability of high speed broadband, upgrading the rail network and work to reduce congestion on the M1 and M25 will be "hand picked" and "rigorously examined" by ministers, he said.

In his speech Clegg warned that the international economic situation was "worse" than six months ago, with UK inflation still high at 4.5% and rising unemployment.

"The reality we face is stark; there is now little margin for error. But that does not mean we are helpless. It does not mean we intend to sit on our hands while the economy falters," he said.

The projects will be funded through previous spending commitments and Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander will "shake the Whitehall tree" to ensure that any existing funds are put to good use. Partnerships with private investors will also "create thousands of new jobs targeted at areas too dependent on the public sector", he said.

The second round of applications for the Regional Growth Fund, which matches every £1 of government investment with £5 of private sector cash, will prioritise infrastructure projects that will deliver "sustainable economic growth", Clegg said.

New money-raising powers will also be granted to local councils, allowing them to borrow against future growth from locally raised business raised to deliver necessary infrastructure.

Projects and construction law expert Barry Francis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, described the commitment as "heartening". He called for "well structured and timely procurements, which do not get bogged down in expensive delays" or require unnecessary expenditure.

"The key is to create confidence in the bidding community that these transactions will happen and that the government is clear as to its expectations. This will require a clear commitment through all levels of the procurement function," he said.

Clegg said that there would be "no deviation" from the Government's deficit reduction plan. However, he promised that reducing the deficit was a "means to an end" and that the government was committed to growth.

"Our critics say that all this government is capable of is cuts. That, beyond lowering a few business taxes and reducing a bit of red tape, there is little else we are willing or able to do. That is absolutely wrong," he said. "We can do more, we are doing more, we will do more."