At least one bit of good news for the chancellor ahead of his budget announcement next week, as it emerged that the UK government and the Qataris are holding talks about £10bn worth of investment in road and rail projects, power stations and also the enormous new sewer tunnel being planned to run under the Thames in London.
Qatar has been in the British investment game for some years now, having bought up Harrods department store, the new Shard tower – which is the tallest in Western Europe – and also London’s Heathrow Airport. But this latest wheeze would involve the creation of a fund to help finance government schemes, and this would be the first of its kind as far as outside investment is concerned.
The specific projects earmarked for funding from such an initiative include a £14bn nuclear reactor facility in Somerset (Hinkley Point). The deal would be done with French energy firm EDF, which is currently embroiled in a row with the UK government over the price it will get for electricity generated by the new reactor.
Talk of such large investment is good news for the government, which is trying to rally overseas investment for new sources of energy to replace coal-fired power stations, which are gradually being phased out.
The government has already offered state guarantees for projects such as the Northern Line extension of the London Underground to the new Battersea development area, a new toll bridge for the Mersey Gateway, and significant conversion work for the coal-fired power station at Drax, to bio fuel operation.
Keeping a flow of investment into the UK from overseas companies and sovereign wealth funds looks to be the only way Britain can keep itself afloat whilst the domestic economy still sputters and staggers without any truly encouraging signs of growth. Better get those Qataris through the door ASAP.