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Businesses and transport experts look to Autumn Statement for Hammond to flesh out infrastructure promises

Chancellor Philip Hammond Addresses Party Conference
"Ensuring we have world class infrastructure is vital to maintaining our competitiveness, but it is a very long-term agenda," Hammond said (Source: Getty)

Businesses have welcomed Philip Hammond's promises to bolster infrastructure today, but warn they'll be watching him carefully to follow through in the Autumn Statement.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference, the new chancellor of the exchequer warned that public infrastructure, including "our roads, railways and flood defences", was in dire condition compared with similarly developed countries, thanks to years of under investment.

"Ensuring we have world class infrastructure is vital to maintaining our competitiveness, but it is a very long-term agenda," Hammond said.

James Sproule, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, welcomed the talks of "the importance of getting value for money from infrastructure". However, he added: "Soon, businesses will need to see this positive mood music turn into something more concrete."

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Sean McKee, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry's director of policy, told City A.M.: "We're facing Brexit being triggered by the end of March. There's a lot of pressure on [Hammond] I think on the 23 November. If he doesn’t deliver, it's going to end pretty badly indeed. It sounds good, looks good – let's see the colour of his money on the 23rd."

Dr Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: "As the UK negotiates its exit from the European Union, Philip Hammond is right to reaffirm the need to boost infrastructure...However, there were no substantive details on these, and UK businesses will eagerly await further details in the Autumn Statement."

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Meanwhile, Carolyn Fairbairn, Confederation of British Industry director-general, was glad to hear the chancellor reiterate commitment to the National Infrastructure Commission, but she warned: "It must be positioned as truly independent if the UK is to deliver a 21st century infrastructure throughout the country."

Transport experts were also keen to see what detail the chancellor would add come the Autumn Statement.

Association for Consultancy and Engineering chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin noted his group was "very pleased with the statement", but added "the devil is in the detail" and they would have to wait and see if the Treasury "has enough resources" to execute its pledges.

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In particular, Ogunshakin said he would like to hear more about aviation in the Autumn Statement, especially as the chancellor's words came at time when the long overdue decision on London's airport expansion plans is expected shortly.

Meanwhile, Atkins' Northern Powerhouse director, Philip Dyer, said: "I see transport and digital connectivity, and energy as particularly high priorities for the Autumn Statement. I'd also like to see further investment to move forward the growth agenda in the Northern Powerhouse."

Also in his speech, Hammond announced he would be scrapping George Osborne’s goal of a fiscal surplus by 2020, and would lay down his own goals on 23 November.

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