The UK Infrastructure Bank Bill is making it’s way through Parliament. The aim of the bill is to place the UK Infrastructure Bank (currently operating on an interim basis) on a statutory footing.
The purpose of the bank is to invest in infrastructure that will tackle climate change and support regional and local economic growth. It’s an excellent proposition and an opportunity to make sure that those strategic objectives, both environmental and levelling up, are well considered and clearly stated.
The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 11 May 2022. Second reading took place on 24 May 2022 and on the 14th June 2022, we had Committee Stage, which is when myself and colleagues in the House of Lords make suggestions (put forward amendments) intended to improve the bill. I have put forward several amendments broadly grouped under two headings, “environmental restoration” and “human enablement and empowerment”.
I have written separately about my environmental amendments, promoting nature based solutions, clean air, green spaces, energy efficiency and energy security. Other amendments would ensure that all projects are inclusive by design, that for the purposes of the bank that the definition of infrastructure should extend to the UK’s cash infrastructure, data and data systems, skills and social infrastructure.
Inclusive By Design
This amendment would ensure that the Bank cannot invest in an infrastructure project on environmental grounds if it excludes individuals or groups on the basis of any protected characteristics.
I think we should have on the fact of the Bill that the bank should be prohibited from investing in any projects that are not inclusive by design. What does “inclusive by design” mean? It is simply this: that all users are enabled in whatever that system, infrastructure or structure itself actually is.Lord Holmes of Richmond, House of Lords, 14 June 2022
I can give a quick example, of where so-called shared space has been laid out across the country, with local authorities using public money to take areas—be that a local piece of public realm, a high street or whatever—which previously were independently accessible by all members of the community. When so-called shared space is put in, kerbs, crossings, road markings and barriers are taken out, and it becomes a free-for-all whereby toddlers and tankers, buses and blind people are somehow able to coexist because of this misguided concept. Public money is being used to take spaces that were previously accessible and make them effectively inaccessible. It is being used effectively to plan out of their local public realm more than one-third of the community. It is critical that in the Bill there is a clear statement of intent that anything that the bank invests in is inclusive by design.
I believe that, for reasons of financial inclusion and resilience, this again should be designated as infrastructure for the purposes of the bank—and perhaps even one stage above that, and designated as critical national infrastructure. For all the arguments around financial inclusion that we ran through in the Financial Services Act 2021 but also for the times in which we live, we need to have resilience in our financial systems. Cash would currently seem to be incredibly significant in providing that resilience, if and when things happen to the digital platforms and systems at local and national level.
Data and Data Systems
We must consider data and data systems as critical infrastructure. So much around data will enable not just economic growth but also social, psychological, citizen, city, community, country and global growth—if we get it right. It is not an inevitability, but I believe that data is at least as important as any other factor to warrant inclusion in the Bill.
Skills should be on the same level as the more tangible hard infrastructure projects. Whatever connectivity or infrastructure programme or project is funded, if we do not ensure that everyone is enabled to have those skills—digital, data, numeracy, literacy or resilience—and, if those skills are not seen as critical, it is really going to be a suboptimal infrastructure investment at best. In some instances, it will largely be a waste of money.
My amendment on social infrastructure reinforces the points above and puts a “have regard” duty on the bank. It also asks that the bank looks to put in measures and means of measuring—the metrics—around social infrastructure for the benefits that this would bring. Again, even if one is considering this on the hard economic case, as the Bill is currently so over-rigidly founded, social infrastructure, despite its name, makes sense. It makes economic sense and it is the right thing to do.
The Minister’s response to these amendments was that they go beyond the remit of the bank and will be addressed through other policies or legislation. I was grateful that she agreed how important they were as issues and I will pay close attention to the upcoming Financial Services and Markets Bill to see how the UKs cash infrastructure will be protected and the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill as an opportunity to push again some of these concerns and questions.
Read the full debate.