Danny Alexander clarifies infrastructure spending: housing, energy, transport, and a £10bn HS2 overspend

Speaking in the Commons today, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander provided some clarification to infrastructure spending plans announced yesterday (here's the speech in full).

First off, clamping down on efficiencies in government will make savings, including further digitisation of HMRC to save up to £50m per year in administration.

One of the best ideas was the invite to businesses to tell government if there are any publicly owned sites that could be put to better use. Unless ministers can defend why they are needed, they will be sold on. It is hoped that £15bn worth of public assets can be sold off by 2020. Some £10bn of this will come from corporate and financial assets like the student loan book.

One not so good idea was to cap social rents at CPI plus one per cent to 2025, something he hopes will provide long-term certainty. On housing, Alexander said that a "good home should not be a luxury for the few, but an achievable aspiration for the many". He said that a further £3bn of capital would be invested in the three years from 2015 to deliver 165,000 affordable homes.

There was a heavy focus on energy, with the commitment to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley point, which Alexander says could provide power for eight per cent of UK homes. Shale gas of course was mentioned in the light of the report out this morning Green energy also featured, with strike prices agreed for renewable energy.

In addition, he pledged that 261 of the worst schools in the priority schools building programme will be rebuilt by 2017 - two years ahead of schedule. Some £10bn would be spent on clearing the backlog quickly. It is hoped that there will be one million new places in a decade to cater for every child.

The announcement of at least £2bn towards Heseltine's single local growth fund for every year from 2015 to the rest of the decade was reiterated, and an extra £600m was pledged to the regional growth fund.

In addition, £370m will be spent on flood defence in 2015, with increases in real terms every year until 2020.

The chief secretary was also keen to promote the idea that this was the most pro-rail government ever, with the biggest rail investment since Victorian times. However, there weren't too many new investments announced, aside from some electrifications and £2m for a study into the funding of Crossrail. And of course a £10bn overspend on HS2 (now £42.6bn), justified by a long-term outlook benefitting from Olympic hindsight.

A number of road projects were announced, including £28bn over six years from 2014 on enhancement and maintenence in roads. There was also a commitment to complete all of the major projects in the highways agency pipeline - which itself will be transformed into a publicly owned organisation.

Finally, Alexander pledged that at least 99 per cent of the population will have access to superfast broadband by 2018, and will be investing a further £250m to meet this target.

Meanwhile, it has been noted that boasts about a boost to capital expenditure may not stand up to scrutiny.