Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money earmarked for Boris Johnson’s flagship “levelling up” scheme risks being squandered on white elephants, an influential group of MPs have warned.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said spending money on major new infrastructure projects “must not become an end in itself”.
The prime minister has pledged to double down on his promise to level up the economies of the midlands and the north to bring them in line with the south of England.
He is keen to be seen as on the side of voters in “red wall” seats, who switched from Labour to the Tories for the first time last December to hand him a parliamentary majority.
But there is growing unease among many Tory MPs about some high-profile infrastructure projects, including the HS2 rail link and the much-delayed Crossrail in London.
In a report published today, the committee warns that hundreds of billions of pounds set aside for new infrastructure projects could be wasted without better coordination, performance tracking and transparency.
William Wragg, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: “Developing grand infrastructure projects must not become an end in itself and we must move away from the short-term view that measures the value of major projects in terms of whether they are finished on time and at the expected cost.”
Instead ministers should focus on “how much they deliver the benefits they set out to achieve”, he said.
He also called on the government to set out what “levelling up” meant in practice and how it would be achieved.
After December’s general election, the government announced its intention to boost the economy through investment in infrastructure.
This was followed by an announcement of £640bn in investment for projects across the UK, as well as a further £5bn in coronavirus “bounce back” investment.
David Renard, the Local Government Association planning spokesman, said the committee was “absolutely right to say the government’s infrastructure projects need to be more responsive to local need, with local support and local input”.