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Boris Johnson is expected to use a speech on Tuesday to lay out his vision of using infrastructure to “level up” opportunities around the nation and to fire up the economy. Dubbed ‘Project Speed’ in Downing Street, his plans will create a new task force headed by the Chancellor which will remove bottlenecks and slash the time it takes to bring schemes to realisation. Mr Johnson has already committed to more than £250 billion of projects but is set to spend billions more accelerating plans for new schools, hospitals, prisons and a revamp of the road network.
It comes as the MPs who helped him sweep the Labour heartlands in December have issued a 10 point unofficial manifesto of what Mr Johnson needs to do to repay the trust of new Tory voters in the north of England, midlands and Wales.
Their demands include new fast broadband for every household, urgent investment in transport and high streets, a tougher approach to law and order, more apprenticeships and an acceleration of the levelling up agenda.
However, the Red Wall MPs look set to be pleased with Mr Johnson’s announcement, with the Prime Minister clear that he does not want any delays in delivering on his promises.
Mr Johnson’s new taskforce, chaired by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, will ensure that projects are “dramatically accelerated” to “revitalise the UK economy.”
Sources close to the Prime Minister have noted his recognition that the government was elected on a manifesto “committed to uniting and levelling up the country”, and Mr Johnson has always placed high quality infrastructure at the heart of delivering this pledge to boost jobs, productivity and growth.
He will point out in his speech that the UK “has a proud heritage in building outstanding infrastructure – from the Victorians’ pioneering railways, to the Thames Barrier that protects millions of Londoners from flooding”.
But it is understood that he is worried that in the past, it has often taken years – if not decades – to take a project through from idea to opening, meaning that people haven’t seen the benefits until far too late.
The Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce will look across the full range of government’s public investment projects and cut delivery times by removing bottlenecks at every step of development and delivery.
It will bring forward proposals to deliver plans more quickly, for example by addressing outdated practices and identifying blocks to progress, so that projects are delivered more quickly and more efficiently to best meet the needs of the people they are designed for.
This new approach will be applied to trailblazer projects including 40 new hospitals, 10,000 prison places and the school rebuilding programme.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The coronavirus response has shown that it doesn’t have to take years to get essential projects off the ground – the Nightingale hospitals and ventilator challenge were up and running in a matter of weeks.
“As we recover from the pandemic we must apply that same urgency to the major projects at the foundations of this country and get them done right, to truly level up opportunity across the UK.
“There’s now no excuse for delays. Infrastructure has the power to rebuild and repair our country – and we will do it better, faster and more strategically than before.”
Meanwhile, the new generation of Conservative MPs who shattered Labour’s “red wall” in the last election and won the trust of voters in Britain’s former industrial heartlands have set out how they want Mr Johnson to deliver for their communities.
Conservative Asfield MP Lee Anderson, a former miner and Labour member, wants Britain restored as a manufacturing powerhouse.
He said: “We still have that in our DNA and we want to get back to that. We’re wasting people and we’re wasting talent, and we’re a great innovating country.”
Mr Anderson welcomes pledges to deliver extra police and would like to see prisoners serving their full sentence – and he is unafraid to call for tougher action against criminals in the community.
Mark Fletcher, who stood against Labour firebrand Dennis Skinner, has pushed for Bolsover to be designated a “green enterprise zone” in the hope it will become a centre for low-carbon manufacturing and research.
Mansfield’s Ben Bradley wants to see the “levelling up agenda supercharged”.
He wants colleges to “offer premises and staff time and expertise to support budding entrepreneurs” and calls for the creation of new courses – offered free to anyone who has lost a job – that will give them the skills they need to find work in growing parts of the economy.
Conservative MP Alexander Stafford, who took Rother Valley from Labour for the first time ever last year, met with the Chancellor a fortnight ago and insists the Government has not lost its enthusiasm for the “levelling up” agenda.
Esther McVey, who heads up the 169-strong group of Blue Collar Conservative MPs, has in recent weeks made the case to scrap business rates to save the high street, and provide super fast broadband to all homes in her weekly podcast.
She said: “Digital inclusion is a must. We need a superfast digital highway to every home.”
Warrington South Conservative MP Andy Carter also wants help for local retailers, saying: “We’ve got to be bold in our approach to redesigning what we think of as the traditional town centre in places like Warrington.”
North West Durham Conservative MP Richard Holden said: “What we are all now looking to the government for is how we can make the most of those new opportunities for our country and focus on that levelling-up agenda as we do that to continue repaying the trust the British people across the North of England placed in us.”
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