‘Boris Johnson is no Franklin D Roosevelt’: reactions to the Prime Minister’s infrastructure announcement
Boris Johnson is no Franklin D Roosevelt, the STUC has said, as it criticised the UK Government’s infrastructure plans and took issue with the Prime Minister’s comparison of himself to the Depression-era US president.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced plans to spend £5bn on infrastructure to drive the economic recovery from coronavirus.
This includes £150bn for hospital construction and maintenance, £100m road projects and £1bn for school buildings in England.
Scotland will get a share of any new spending through the Barnett formula, but only some of the money is new.
It includes funding had already been allocated in the budget and planned future projects that have been brought forward.
Shelter has also highlighted that it appears to involve a cut to the budget for affordable housing, with £12bn investment announced in the budget, now being stretched across eight years.
Johnson promised to tackle problems in the country “that we have failed to tackle for decades” and said the UK Government would not be responding to the crisis with austerity because “the world has moved on since 2008”.
Listing the UK Government’s infrastructure plans for houses, roads, schools, hospitals and tree planting, Johnson commented: “I am conscious as I say all this that it sounds like a prodigious amount of government intervention.
“It sounds like a new deal and all I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be because that is what the times demand, a government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis, that tackles homelessness, the inequalities that drive people to food banks, because it is time now not just for a new deal but a fair deal for the British people.”
However, the STUC pointed out that Johnson’s £5bn ‘new deal’ represents just 0.2 per cent of UK GDP, while Roosevelt's New Deal accounted for 40 per cent of US GDP in total and Germany’s recently announced economic stimulus represents four per cent of GDP.
It suggested the UK Government would need 20 times the ambition if it is serious about protecting jobs and rebuilding the economy sustainably and that the £80bn called for by the Scottish Government was closer to the level required.
STUC general secretary Rozanne Foyer said: “The most obvious conclusion from today’s investment announcements is that BJ is no FDR. His speech lacked coherence and so does his plan.
“His greatest passion seemed to be reserved for cutting red tape which is all too often code for cutting the rights of workers and reducing environmental standards.
“He certainly didn’t talk about good jobs and we know from this crisis that bad jobs kill.
“This goes nowhere near far enough to provide the stimulus our economy requires. We need twenty times the ambition.
“For example, our analysis shows the potential for a two-year £13 billion green stimulus package to create 140,000 jobs in Scotland.
“All eyes now turn to the Chancellor later this month. He must act urgently to bring forward a job guarantee scheme, extend the furlough scheme in key sectors and do what Johnson failed to do today – come up with a real new deal for recovery.”
Opposition parties also criticised that plan. The Scottish Greens called it “reckless and dangerous” and described it as “the old deal on stilts”.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “This is the bleakest possible vision of a recovery from coronavirus, dressed up in the language of a green new deal.
“His plan to ‘build, build, build’ includes a massive road building programme and a deeply alarming deregulation of the housing market.
“Both of these could cause enormous environmental damage, as well as increasing emissions. What’s more, he can’t even say how many jobs would be created.
“This is yet more rhetoric on a green recovery without the action or urgency required. This is no new deal.
“Boris Johnson even hailed the free market financiers who have caused the most damage. It’s very much the old deal on stilts.
“We’ve yet to see what impact these plans will have on Scotland’s finances, but it’s clear we must go our own way and reject this catastrophic approach.”
The SNP said the “recycled money” fell short of the investment needed and claimed the Prime Minister was putting Scotland’s recovery at risk.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “The Tories are putting Scotland's recovery at risk. Yet again, Boris Johnson has fallen woefully short on his promises with this failure of ambition that completely ignores Scotland's needs.
“This recycled money falls far short of the huge investment that the UK requires to secure a strong recovery and it pales in comparison to the bold action being taken in other countries.
“The pandemic has caused an unprecedented economic crisis – and that must be met with an unprecedented response, in line with that announced by other nations like Germany.
“The Prime Minister needs to go back to the drawing board and return with another relaunch speech to announce an emergency budget, a meaningful package of at least £80billion in investment, and to devolve the financial powers that the Scottish Parliament needs to secure a strong recovery for Scotland.”
And SNP shadow chancellor Alison Thewliss questioned whether Scotland would get any extra funding from the announcement.
She said: “Boris Johnson's woeful recovery plan unravelled within minutes – and completely fails to meet the scale of the challenge we face.
“It now seems Scotland could get no new money at all as a result of this Tory con trick – and budgets might even be cut back if the Tory government slashes funding for affordable housing.
“The Prime Minister must come to Parliament to explain exactly how much new money Scotland will receive, if any – and why the Tory government is putting Scotland's recovery at risk by failing to deliver anything like the scale of funds and powers necessary.”
But the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) described the Prime Minister’s case as “compelling” and urged both the UK and Scottish governments to deliver investment in infrastructure.
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the SCC, said: “The Scottish Chambers of Commerce agree that we must not let this crisis go to waste.
“Plans to rebuild our economy must be backed with both intent, collaboration and investment of a scale not seen since the last century.
“The Prime Minister set out a compelling case for investing in infrastructure and we urge both the Scottish and UK Government to work together to put shovel-ready projects on the table and deliver investment to ensure the economy is supported in the immediate, medium and long-term.
“Boosting consumer confidence by announcing VAT cuts, providing further job security by extending the furlough scheme for the hardest-hit sectors and providing guaranteed opportunities for our young people are just some of the immediate steps both governments should collaborate on and deliver for business.
“The Scottish Government must ensure all consequential funding is allocated towards rehabilitating the economy and creating jobs.”
Further detail of the UK Government’s plans for economic recovery will be set out by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, next week.