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Plan includes A1 dualling

Johnson evokes Roosevelt in pledge to rebuild Britain

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson: ‘putting arms around the people’

Boris Johnson today promised to “tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges” backed by £5 billion in capital investment to accelerate infrastructure projects this year.

Mr Johnson wants to “build, build, build” as part of a Roosevelt-style recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking in the West Midlands, the Prime Minister announced details of “Project Speed” to put jobs and infrastructure at the centre of the government’s economic growth plan,

In April, the UK economy shrunk by a record 20.4% and new figures show business confidence in Scotland fell eight points during June to -41%, the lowest of all UK regions and nations.

Mr Johnson wants to emulate the New Deal policies of the depression-era US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who launched a massive recovery programme of investment in schools, hospitals and dams. He is hereby seeking to underline his rejection of any return of the austerity measures adopted after the 2008 financial crash.

Too many parts of this country have felt left behind, neglected, unloved

– Boris Johnson

Speaking in the West Midlands, the Prime Minister said he wants to use the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to “to build the homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK”.

He pledged to puts the government’s “arms around people at a time of crisis”.

He said: “Too many parts of this country have felt left behind, neglected, unloved, as though someone had taken a strategic decision that their fate did not matter as much as the metropolis.

“And so I want you to know that this government not only has a vision to change this country for the better, we have a mission to unite and level up.”

He added: “We cannot continue simply to be prisoners of the crisis,” Johnson said. “We must work fast because we’ve already seen the vertiginous drop in GDP and we know that people are worried now about their jobs and their businesses.”

His message, delivered at a college in Dudley, was overshadowed by the announcement of a new lockdown in Leicester, just 50 miles away, where COVID-19 infections are surging.

The government said the PM’s announcement brings forward funding to “accelerate” infrastructure projects in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The plans include a dual-carriage for the A1 to Scotland and he is still keen to see a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Government will take a decision on committing to the work.

However, his announcement only represents part of the money set aside for capital projects in this year’s Budget and will not mean a new stimulus for the economy, government officials admitted.

Although the money announced by Mr Johnson will be new for the recipients of the cash — with individual projects to be identified — it will not add extra demand to the economy.

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That is instead planned to be included Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s summer economic update next week who is considering a temporary cut in VAT for the hospitality sector. In the autumn Mr Sunak will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy.

A Downing Street statement said that “while in the long-term the government must set a path to balance the books, the prime minister is clear that we will not do so at the expense of investing now in the productive potential of the economy, or at the expense of the resilience of the UK’s public services”.

Responding to the announcement, Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “Our country is suffering the worst economic hit of all industrialised nations, but instead of the back-to-work budget our country needs focusing on one thing – jobs, jobs, jobs – the chancellor will only be providing an ‘update’ on the economy.”

In a letter to the PM, Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader said the spending and borrowing powers that have been requested by the Scottish Government were the “essential key to Scotland’s economic recovery”.

He called for an emergency UK Budget in July designed to protect people’s jobs and incomes – echoing calls from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for an £80 billion stimulus programme, including a cut in VAT and national insurance contributions, and an employment guarantee for young people.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman and party leadership contender Layla Moran said Mr Johnson’s speech looked like “a rehash of manifesto pledges” and accused the government of “running out of ideas”.

Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry said the announcement was “encouraging” but said it was important that small businesses were not “locked out of the ambition to build… because of cumbersome public sector procurement rules”.

And British Chamber of Commerce director-general Adam Marshall said the government’s plans “must take shape on the ground swiftly to give a real confidence boost to businesses and communities.

“The government must go even further over the coming days to rekindle business and consumer confidence, as part of a wider roadmap to economic recovery. This is a critical moment, and business communities need this government to be bolder than any previous government has ever been.

Adam Marshall

Adam Marshall: ‘critical moment’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“In his first inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, ‘We must act, and act quickly’. The same holds true in Britain today.”

At the last Prime Ministers Questions, Boris Johnson made a commitment to consider the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Economic Advisory Group, which called for an accelerated review of the Devolved Fiscal Framework to ensure Holyrood has the powers and access to capital needed to fuel Scotland’s coronavirus recovery.

The announcement comes as business confidence in Scotland fell eight points during June to -41%, the lowest of all UK regions and nations, according to the latest Business Barometer from of Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking.

Companies in Scotland reported lower confidence in their business prospects month-on-month at -33%. When taken alongside their views on the economy overall, this gives a headline confidence reading of -41%.

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.

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