Boris Johnson has pledged to accelerate infrastructure projects and “drive economic growth” in all parts of the UK as part of a multibillion-pound coronavirus recovery plan.
The prime minister said the economy was currently standing between “the lightning flash and the thunderclap” with the “full economic reverberations” about to arrive following a “vertiginous” drop in GDP.
Speaking in Dudley in the West Midlands, Mr Johnson said the UK Government would “build, build, build” its way out of the crisis to ensure Britain would “not just bounce back, but bounce forward stronger and better and more united than ever before”.
Under his plan, £5 billion of capital spending on roads, rail, schools and high streets will be brought forward in England.
I, to put it mildly, am extremely underwhelmed by what has been announced.”
As the cash is not technically new, there will be no additional Barnett consequentials for the devolved administrations to spend.
Nicola Sturgeon said the speech was nothing more than an exercise in “shuffling money”.
She said: “I hope what the prime minister announced is the start of a conversation about fiscal stimulus and not the end of that conversation.
“I, to put it mildly, am extremely underwhelmed by what has been announced.
“We can often judge the scale of fiscal announcements from the UK Government by what we expect then to see in consequentials to devolved administrations and I hope I’m wrong, but our expectation is there will be no additional consequences from the prime minister’s announcement.”
“That tells its own story; this is simply shuffling around money that was already in the system and I don’t think that is commensurate with the scale of the challenge that we face”, the first minister added.
The UK Government has so far given the Scottish Government more than £5.4 billion through the Barnett formula and hundreds of thousands of workers are currently supported on the Treasury furlough scheme.
“I know that some have sometimes played up the legitimate variations in the response between the devolved administrations but when you look at the whole effort you can see the absolutely vital role of that union and that partnership”, Mr Johnson said.
“It is our fantastic UK armed services that have played such a crucial role in this crisis, running the test centres, building the hospitals, transporting people from the Shetlands to the right Covid wards.
“It was the might of the UK Treasury that set up that furlough scheme – in all corners of the country and sent massive and immediate extra funding to all four parts of the UK.”
The prime minister added: “I believe the union has more than showed its worth.
“A prosperous and United Kingdom must be a connected kingdom and that is why we are now accelerating projects to drive economic growth in all parts of the country.
“We will carry out a study of all future road, rail, air and cross-sea links between all our four parts of the UK.”
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer, responding to the announcements, said: “We’re facing an economic crisis, the biggest we’ve seen in a generation and the recovery needs to match that. What’s been announced amounts to less than £100 per person.
“And it’s the re-announcement of many manifesto pledges and commitments, so it’s not enough.”
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