Former cabinet minister admits Tories ‘very poor at delivering infrastructure’

Rishi Sunak’s attempts to bolster his government’s credibility on economic growth have been dealt another blow.

A recording of former communities secretary Robert Jenrick from March speaking to young Tory activists has emerged where he candidly admits his party in government has been “very poor” at delivering infrastructure.

Mr Jenrick, who resigned from Mr Sunak’s government as immigration minister over disagreements in the Rwanda policy, has been seen as a potential leadership contender in the wake of what some see as an inevitable defeat.

But with the prime minister infamously cancelling large parts of the High Speed 2 project to Manchester when his party was holding its conference in that city, delivering infrastructure has been a difficult topic for Mr Sunak.

Robert Jenrick is a potential leadership contender (ITV/Peston)
Robert Jenrick is a potential leadership contender (ITV/Peston)

The recording is of Mr Jenrick speaking at an event in Westminster exclusively for under-35s hosted by centre right Conservative think tank, Onward, in March this year.

Mr Jenrick told the audience that the government has been unwilling to make long-term decisions and be honest with the public.

He said: “The problem with this country today is that too few politicians are willing to take long-term solutions and really be frank with the public about trade-offs and get things done.

“And whether it's on water or housing, all these interconnected challenges, we've just got to be honest about the challenges and get on and actually deliver something.”

“And we've proven very poor delivering infrastructure around the country and that's something we’ve got to fix.”

The comments are a rejection of Mr Sunak’s own claims before the election that his government was focussed on making the long term decisions for the benefit of the country.

Mr Jenrick spoke with experiences of the frustrations of serving in both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s government. Under Mr Johnson he was secretary of state for communities and housing between July 2019 and September 2021 before it became the Department for Levelling Up.

Nevertheless his brief had included trying to deliver levelling up projects including transport infrastructure and renewal of high streets to parts of the country which had seen decades of investment.

Much of his time in the department though was spent dealing with the covid pandemic.

Both Labour and the Tories have put economic growth at the heart of their manifestos with Mr Sunak promising tax cuts and Sir Keir Starmer looking at how to unlock infrastructure investment and building.

Sir Keir told The Independent in an interview this week that the failure to deliver economic growth has been “the Achilles heel” of the UK and that planning regulations and the failure to build housing and infrastructure including roads and energy played an important part in that.