Engineers call for Sir John Armitt to lead National Infrastructure Commission

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An engineers’ body has called for Sir John Armitt to replace Lord Adonis as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission following his resignation

Lord Adonis quit on 29 December, accusing the government of having “no credible plan for the future of British trade and European cooperation” as it heads towards Brexit, which he claims is causing a “nervous breakdown across Whitehall”.

He also attacked transport secretary Chris Grayling’s “indefensible” decision to bailout the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise, saying it will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds while only benefiting “the billionaire owners of these companies and their shareholders”.

The decision will push rail fares still higher and threaten national infrastructure investment – and could end up costing billions if other loss-making rail companies demand the same treatment, Lord Adonis added.

He also claimed that despite raising serious concerns about the bailout with both the Chancellor and transport secretary, he received no response beyond “inappropriate requests to desist”.

Commenting on Adonis’s departure, the chief executive of the Association for Consultancy & Engineering Nelson Ogunshakin said: “Throughout his career, Lord Adonis has served infrastructure well, yet he can be especially proud of what he has achieved as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, where he was a champion for our industry at the heart of government.

“We now urgently need to secure a credible individual, such as current deputy Sir John Armitt, to step up as chair to maintain the commission’s momentum and its vital role in reminding ministers and civil servants, who may be distracted by issues surrounding Brexit, of the long-term importance of infrastructure investment to the economy and society.”

Elsewhere, the Institute for Government said Lord Adonis‘s departure shows it is time to put the NIC on a statutory footing.

“Since its creation, the NIC has set out a distinct agenda, separate from that of its parent department – the Treasury – and well beyond the remit of a normal executive agency,” associate director Nick Davies said.

“Such independence is critical for the NIC’s ability to do its job properly and maintain credibility with the opposition and the public. It is concerning that, according to Lord Adonis’s resignation letter, he was told not to publicly raise concerns about the East Coast rail franchise.

“The NIC would be protected from such interference, and be less reliant on the independent attitude of its personnel, if its institutional form matched its purpose.

“The Office for Budget Responsibility and the Committee on Climate Change are both non-departmental public bodies, which provide government with independent advice, and it’s high time for the NIC to be put on a similar statutory footing.”

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