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Besley named to UK infrastructure commission

by CIFAR Dec 7 / 15

Tim Besley, Gluskin-Granovsky Fellow in the program in Institutions, Organizations & Growth, has been appointed to the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, which will advise the government on where to spend £100 billion of infrastructure money by 2020.

The appointment comes two years after Besley, the Sir William Arthur Lewis Professor of Development Economics at the London School of Economics, co-chaired the LSE Growth Commission, an advisory group of academics and policy-makers which recommended that the infrastructure commission be established. The LSE group also included IOG Senior Fellow Philippe Aghion.

According to the LSE group’s report, infrastructure policy in the UK has been hampered by policy instability, difficulty in basing advice on unbiased expert appraisals, NIMBYism, and difficulty weighing up the costs and benefits of projects.

The result has been poor spending decisions, especially around energy and transportation. Besley says that the independent commission is intended to give unbiased, expert policy advice to Parliament, untainted by narrow political considerations.

“The idea of the National Infrastructure Commission is to put politics in the right place in infrastructure decision making. Politicians rightly hold the purse strings and will hold the commission to account. Our role will be to try to achieve cross-party consensus to promote a long-term vision,” Besley says.

UK Chancellor George Osborne named the seven commissioners last week. The creation of the new infrastructure commission is based on sound reasoning and fits in with the kinds of thinking championed in the research of IOG members, Besley says. They are interested in how effective institutions promote growth and prosperity, an interest that includes recommendations on how institutions can be improved.

By contributing to the design of a successful institution in the UK, Besley says that he hopes the National Infrastructure Commission can become a model for other governments around the world which are struggling to invest for the long-term.