Is it just me or is there something faintly Maoist about David Cameron's brave new coalition government?
We've now got a five year infrastructure plan, a five year deficit plan, and five year fixed terms, not to mention a quasi-religious extolling of the virtues of personal sacrifice in order to benefit the greater good.
The Tories even produced a communist-style manifesto at the last election, while the Lib Dems have got their little Orange Book - perhaps they should change the shade and have done with it?
Joking aside, there is currently something of a vogue amongst western governments for the adoption of the kind of medium-term five to 10 year plans made famous, or should that be infamous, by China's Communist Party.
The realisation that short termism is the unifying factor behind virtually every problewm currently faced by western economies - ranging from the economic crisis to climate change, faltering skills development to international terrorism, ageing infrastructure to the ageing population - has prompted governments across the US, Europe and Asia-Pac to start producing the kind of multi-year plans that aim to give investors, businesses and policymakers the certainty that they require to face these various challenges.
Taken in this light the infrastructure plan released today by the government is a hugely welcome development. The fact that this is the first such plan to ever be produced in the UK goes a long way to explaining why our infrastructure remains in such a parlous state. Why rail delays and traffic jams are a way of life, why we are running out of landfill sites and reservoirs, and why we have one of the worst records for generating renewable energy of any European state. That it has taken a centre-right government manned by numerous ministers who distrust the role of the state to produce such a plan is another damning indictment of the Labour years.
However, as the often tragic history of Twentieth Century China confirms setting a five year plan is the easy bit, delivering on it effectively is where things get difficult.
Cameron is right to say that the UK urgently needs up to £200bn of infrastructure investment over the next five years, where he is on shakier ground is in his assertion that the government has the policies in place to unlock this investment and has selected the right target areas for such high levels of spending.
The coalition should be praised for putting low carbon technology at the heart of the new infrastructure plan and it is encouraging to see clear commitment to sectors such as offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, grid improvements and high speed rail. The announcements today from GE, Siemens and Gamesa that they are to locate new wind turbine factories in the UK, driving over £100m of investment and creating thousands of jobs in the process, shows that this strategy can work.
But if modern low carbon industry is at the heart of the plan, some of the arms and legs look decidedly old fashioned. It is great to see billions of pounds of funding provided to low carbon infrastructure, but many of the emissions savings delivered by the resulting technologies will be undermined by the simultaneous pledges to improve infrastructure for North Sea oil and gas and deliver a comprehensive road-widening programme.
As those old Chinese five year plans so tragically demonstrated, conflicting objectives can lead to some pretty disastrous consequences.
Equally, the government's assertion that it can leverage the vast majority of the infrastructure investment required over the next few years from the private sector looks like it is based as much on wishful thinking as it is on thorough economic analysis.
Taking the Green Investment Bank as just one example, business leaders said that it would need between £4bn and £6bn of capitalization to drive sufficient investment from the private sector. At the time of writing it only has £1bn of capitalization confirmed, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change had to fight tooth and nail to get that. More cash is promised, but it is going to be months, if not years, until we find out how much.
Similarly, the government keeps saying that it will tackle the planning problems and restricted access to bank credit that have blocked businesses keen to invest in low carbon infrastructure. But, thankfully, this is not China, and there are good democratic reasons why the government can neither tear up planning rules as it sees fit nor order private banks to do as it says.
Chairman Cameron and co appear entirely genuine in their efforts to tackle these problems and the infrastructure plan should help lay the foundations for the kind of policies that will indeed lead to increased investment in low carbon technology. The difficulty is that all of this will take time that the UK can ill afford if it is to remain at the forefront of the global low carbon economy.
Just like those Chinese five year plans, you get the feeling Cameron's version could take far longer than half a decade to achieve its goals.
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