Qatar in talks to spend £10bn on UK projects



Qatar is considering plans to invest up to £10bn in UK infrastructure projects in what would be a much-needed boon for the economy.

The Middle East state has held talks with ministers about setting up a dedicated fund to invest in UK road, rail and energy schemes. Discussions are at a very early stage, though, and there is little prospect of any concrete announcements in next week's Budget.

The Treasury has put infrastructure at the heart of its drive for growth, but does not want to jeopardise the public finances by paying for the projects with state funds, and has had limited success to date in securing private sector investment.

A major commitment from gas rich Qatar could prove transformational in getting building work off the ground, if a deal can be struck soon.

Qatar already has strong links with the UK, having taken stakes in Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) , Sainsbury (LSE: SBRY.L - news) 's and airport operator BAA in recent years. It also owns Harrods and the Shard skyscraper in London through various investment vehicles.

Among the schemes under discussion is the £14bn nuclear reactor to be built by France's EDF (Paris: FR0010242511 - news) in Somerset and the Thames super-sewer. EDF lost its partner Centrica (LSE: CNA.L - news) last month and is looking for new investors.

The subject was raised by the Prime Minister in January at a reception where the Emir of Qatar and the Qatari prime minister were guests of honour.

However, negotiations over Qatar's financial returns are ongoing and similar discussions have proved almost intractable for pension fund investors in the past.

The Government unveiled its National Infrastructure Plan almost 18 months ago, with ambitions to raise £20bn from private sector investors. To date, just £1bn has been pledged in soft commitments by 10 pension funds but no money has been released.

Last July, the Government added a pledge to guarantee £40bn worth of infrastructure projects. But, despite receiving hundreds of requests, only the £1bn Northern Line underground extension to Battersea has got the green light.

The Chancellor is expected to announce a series of new guarantees in the Budget as part of his latest push for growth.