UK to build its way out of pandemic, says PM

Business leaders in the UK have given a guarded welcome to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's pledge on Tuesday to put jobs and infrastructure at the heart of the government's post-pandemic recovery effort.

St Paul's Cathedral, London, with building cranes in the skyline
Invoking the New Deal spirit of Franklin D Roosevelt during the Great Depression, Mr Johnson set out plans to accelerate £5 billions-worth of spending on infrastructure projects as he promised Britain would "build, build, build" its way out of the economic disaster arising out of the coronavirus outbreak.

A New Deal for Great Britain

Speaking in Dudley in the West Midlands, the PM outlined a programme that would include additional spending on roads, hospital buildings, local government construction projects, town centre improvements and schools. The government is also planning to bring forward funding to "accelerate" infrastructure projects in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."It sounds positively Rooseveltian. It sounds like a New Deal," said Mr Johnson. "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."This is a government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country's great unresolved challenges of the last three decades."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. To unite and level up."To that end we will build, build, build - build back better, build back greener, build back faster, and to do that at the pace that this moment requires."Mr Johnson added that Britain could become "a science super-power" but said the most immediate challenge of the pandemic would the effect on jobs. He said the government would offer an "opportunity guaranteed" for every person to have an apprenticeship or in-work placement.

Confederation of British Industry: the foundations are there to be built on, but more is needed to prevent unemployment

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the economic impact of the pandemic risked "fracturing" communities for a generation."Plans for a jobs-first recovery, underpinned by a restorative injection of infrastructure investment, could help limit the damage and set the UK on course to build back better," she said.“The prime minister’s commitment to upgrade and decarbonise our transport infrastructure, in all UK regions and nations, lays strong foundations. Upgrading and building new English schools, prisons and hospitals will mobilise the construction industry supporting millions of workers and job opportunities. And cutting red tape should help prioritise the building of widely available, truly affordable homes. Together with commitments on R&D and innovation, these are the first steps on the path to recovery.“Foundations are there to be built on. More is needed to prevent the uneven scarring unemployment leaves on communities."

Hopes for a "genuine home-building revolution"

For the property industry, James Forrester, managing director of estate agent Barrows and Forrester, said he hoped Mr Johnson's announcement would mean "that there is finally a genuine home-building revolution".Marc von Grundherr, director of lettings and estate agent Benham and Reeves, added, "Like many areas of life, the severe lack of homes being built has understandably taken a back seat. However, it now stands as one of the pillars on which the government is forming its economic recovery plan."

British Chambers of Commerce: the government must act quickly

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that while the infrastructure plans announced by Mr Johnson were welcome, they 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," he said.“In his first inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: ‘We must act, and act quickly’. The same holds true in Britain today.”

Federation of Small Businesses: plans must be fair to SMEs

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said the government's plans must be fair to SMEs."It’s encouraging to see the government returning to its levelling-up agenda, an agenda made all the more important as we emerge from a recession," he said."For too long the small business community has been blighted by regional disparities and creaking infrastructure. It’s good to see the first steps towards addressing these shortcomings – the focus on local roads and towns is welcome."s 

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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