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CBI: State Must Act To Boost Infrastructure

(c) Sky News 2012

Business leaders have called on the Government to underwrite private sector investment to update the UK's creaking infrastructure and kick-start the ailing economy.

Rebuking Chancellor George Osborne for making little progress after signalling his support for investing in infrastructure in the autumn statement, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said it had identified ways of securing up to £250bn to repair the nation's road, rail and air networks.

With no public money in the coffers, the business group said the Treasury could incentivise the private sector, and particularly pension and sovereign wealth funds, to invest in public sector construction projects by underwriting their risk.

The CBI said rules around what insurers can invest in should also be relaxed in order to further encourage the private sector to shoulder the bulk of the cost of updating the nation's infrastructure.

CBI director general John Cridland said: "If we want to see the billions of pounds needed to upgrade our ageing infrastructure and secure jobs and growth for the long term, the government must make smarter use of limited public finances.

"By underwriting and lifting the credit rating of certain infrastructure assets, it can make them less risky and more attractive to investors."

The call came soon after it was revealed that the UK economy is in a deeper double-dip recession than first thought.

Mr Cridland added: "Infrastructure spending offers the UK the elusive boost we are all seeking."

Supporting growth through infrastructure investment was also advocated by the International Monetary Fund last week.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor outlined a pipeline of 500 infrastructure projects worth about £250bn that needed investment over the next decade.

The Government had hoped that the private sector would foot the bill for most of the projects but the response so far from investors such as pension funds has been muted due to concerns about the construction risk early on in a project.

The CBI has now suggested the Treasury could lessen the risk to private investors by guaranteeing a small share - around 10% - of a project's funding costs.

The government guarantee would be classified a contingent liablity and would impose a cost to the public finances only in extreme circumstances, the CBI said.