Minister for the Cabinet Office, John Glen's speech to the Transforming Infrastructure Performance Conference
Speech delivered by Minister for the Cabinet Office, John Glen MP, to the Transforming Infrastructure Performance Conference on Monday 27 November 2023
Good morning, everyone.
It’s a great pleasure to be here with you all today.
I don’t think I could have picked a better place to give my first speech as the new Minister for Cabinet Office, because here today, in this audience, at this Live Summit, are the leaders who will create the public sector that we all vitally need - a public sector of the future.
I know you’ve all been very busy – in fact this year, we’ve recorded the biggest portfolio of projects on record. I’ve been in post now for 14 days and it was great to sit down with Nick Smallwood last week to discuss his work and understand the challenges and opportunities that he and all of you face.
It’s reassuring for me to remember, as a former Treasury minister, that in 2024/25 we are investing 30 billion pounds more in real terms than at the start of this Parliament. In fact, this year we recorded the biggest portfolio of projects on record. two-hundred-and-forty-four to be exact, with an overall worth of eight-hundred-and-five-billion pounds.
I want to thank you all for your dedication to this work. Through the teamwork between the public and private sector, we are delivering a vibrant infrastructure, one that will benefit every one of our citizens.
Whether it’s nuclear power stations generating clean energy, our prisons rehabilitating offenders giving them a chance to lead a crime-free life, or our hospitals providing critical healthcare, we are delivering for the British public.
Your delivery is remarkable, not only for the complexity of the task, but for the challenging circumstances you’re delivering these major construction projects through.
The Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine have created both high inflation and low affordability.
But those challenges shouldn’t deter us - on the contrary, they are the reason the projects we work on must be delivered effectively.
Public infrastructure plays a vital role in economic growth, and, indeed, it is a growth industry in itself, and we’ll need over a million new workers until 2025 to deliver the projects currently scheduled.
So, it is up to government to get those trained workers in place – the apprentices, technicians, graduates – indeed, all skilled workers, and give them the opportunity in this thriving area.
But that’s not the only opportunity we’re focused on - no, through the infrastructure you’re building we are embracing new opportunities, to be greener, to be more innovative, to be more modern than ever before.
I want to thank the IPA for their leadership here. Their ‘Transforming Infrastructure Performance’ programme describes a vision for the future in which we must prioritise societal outcomes, paving the way for sustainability, digitalisation and modernisation.
It’s the right approach to take, and we want to ensure that when people invest in our infrastructure, they’re investing in a revitalised sector. One which can withstand new challenges, adapt to and adopt new technologies, and benefit our citizens and the whole of society.
Already our net zero promises are the cornerstone of our New Hospitals Programme and the Schools Rebuilding Programme.
These are fantastic new initiatives, and they allow us to put the design and planning innovations to the test.
The government will progress the National Infrastructure Commission’s April recommendations on planning by delivering reforms to return the nationally significant infrastructure project regime to the two and a half year average consenting time achieved in 2012.
The government will take further action by including the publishing of spatial data on major infrastructure projects for the first time and ensuring a more reliable process for updating national policy statements.
As you saw last week in the Chancellor’s remarks at Autumn Statement, we are also taking steps overall in the reform of planning - a new premium planning service, new guaranteed accelerated decision dates, and a critical national priority designation for nationally significant low carbon energy projects, which will also be a helpful intervention. As well, the reforms to the grid connection process, halving the time to build new grid infrastructure.
My new boss, The Deputy Prime Minister – and, indeed, my predecessor – spoke about the role that data and AI will play in our public services, and I believe it will have a crucial position in your sector.
We have seen how digitalisation is already being used in our infrastructure - the new prison HMP Millsike, for example, has digital and data throughout its processes. Its progress is being tracked in real-time, supply-chain progress and decisions are being digitally recorded. That means reduced cost and reduced risk – time saved and timescales on target.
The new prison HMP Fosse Way was also built 22% faster than a traditional build, all thanks to 70% of the project using modern methods of construction.
And generative AI was used on HS2 London Tunnels in Euston to shorten the build time by 86 working days, which also saved twelve-million-pounds. Better efficiency, safety and quality was the result – this is what innovation brings.
And I’m delighted to say that, next year, the IPA will launch a new benchmarking service to improve decision making, which I hope will lead to stronger business cases and greater confidence in cost and schedules - all powered by innovative practices.
Ladies and gentlemen, now is the time for the UK to be at the forefront of creativity, innovation and a clean future.
I passionately believe the new methods this industry has been leading on will not only provide economic stability, it will also provide opportunity throughout our regions, levelling up all public infrastructure to an excellent level.
I can promise you that, in my new role, I will always put people at the very heart of our projects, whether that is the taxpayer or business leaders, whether in a big city or a small town.
I want to reiterate my thanks to all of you - yes, we are aware of the challenges ahead of us, but I believe we have an ever more sophisticated plan to tackle them.
I look forward to a future where our TIP principles not only create thriving UK towns and cities, but are used as an example of how to create world-leading infrastructure.
And I look forward to working with you to make those ambitions – your ambitions, our ambitions - a reality.
I wish you well with your conference today and with the workshops that you will be doing later this morning. Thank you for the opportunity to make this my first speech as the minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.