Politics

Boris Johnson: Economy speech fact-checked

Boris JohnsonImage copyright AFP/Getty Images

The prime minister has set out £5bn worth of infrastructure spending that he says will mean the UK can “bounce back better”.

Reality Check has taken a closer look at some of the announcements:

1. A New Deal

Boris Johnson said: “It sounds like a New Deal… because that is what the times demand.”

In the early 1930s, President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal programme increased the state’s role in the economy and was designed to help the US recover from the Great Depression.

Comparisons between government programmes in different countries, 90 years apart, are very difficult to make.

Also, there are strong arguments that it was Roosevelt’s structural reforms involving things like banking and social security that brought about the recovery.

Nonetheless, there have been a few valiant attempts at trying to get New Deal spending into some sort of modern context.

Remember that the New Deal ran over several years, with spending each year between about 5% and 7% of the total output of the economy (GDP) each year.

Boris Johnson’s £5bn would be less than a quarter of one percent of GDP if it were spent in a single year (which is unlikely).

To get an idea of the scale of increased government spending in the 1930s, US federal government debt grew from 16% of GDP in 1929 to 44% of GDP in 1939.

2. Hospital spending

Before the speech, it was announced £1.5bn would be made available for hospital maintenance and construction, the removal of mental health dormitories and increasing A&E capacity.

It would be part of the pot of money known as the capital budget. This spending is the money we use to build new hospitals or fix existing ones. It is also spent on new equipment, such as MRI machines.

This spending was cut between 2010-11 – when the Conservatives entered power – and 2017-18 by about 7% in England, according to the Health Foundation. This was because the NHS was focusing its resources on day-to-day running of the health service, such as staff pay. However, recent announcements have seen spending refocus on capital projects.

In the Spring Budget 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care’s capital budget increased by £1.1bn, taking the annual budget to £8.2bn.

The department has said that the £1.5bn announced on Tuesday is all on top of the earlier £1.1bn.

There is an existing backlog of £6.5bn already needed to fix problems in NHS buildings.

Image copyright Getty Images

3. Road and rail projects

The government has pledged £100m this year for 29 projects to “get Britain moving”, including:

  • bridge repairs in Sandwell, in the West Midlands
  • improving the A15 in the Humber region
  • £10m for ”unblocking the central Manchester bottleneck”

But this is a relatively small amount of money for a large number of projects.

And it is not new.

It has been allocated from the money set out in the Spring Budget for infrastructure investment.

4. Planning and housing

The prime minister said “we will build fantastic new homes on brownfield sites” and promised the “most radical reforms” of the planning system since World War Two.

The UK’s planning system was effectively established in 1947, two years after the end of the war, with the Town and Country Planning Act.

There has been criticism in recent years of the amount of time it takes to get planning permission.

But it has also been pointed out that many developers secure planning permission and then don’t immediately build. Homeless charity Shelter said 280,000 homes were given planning permission in England between 2011 and 2016 but were never built.

In 2017-18, 382,997 applications were granted, which would be more than enough to meet the government target of 300,000 new homes a year.

The government has also said that it would spend £12bn to build houses over the next eight years, something which had been announced previously.

5. Schools

The prime minister repeated Monday’s pledge of £1bn for 50 school-building programmes starting in September 2021.

This is also the allocation of some of the infrastructure spending announced in the Spring Budget.

And there have been no details of which 50 schools will be given the money.

On Monday, Mr Johnson announced £200m for further education.

But this turned out to be just bringing forward some of the £1.5bn over five years promised in the Conservative manifesto for further education.

And on Tuesday, Mr Johnson made no mention of this £200m, referring to the whole £1.5bn instead.

6. Tree planting

The PM repeated a commitment to plant over 75,000 acres of trees (about 30,000 hectares) every year by 2025.

But Conservative-led governments over the past decade have consistently fallen short of targets for tree-planting set out in their election manifestos.

Tree-planting is a devolved issue in the UK, but England’s tree-planting record is particularly poor compared with other European countries.

Government funding and support saw about 3.6 million trees newly planted in England in the two years from 2017 to 2019, covering an area of about 2,300 hectares.

That figure does not include trees planted to replace others that have been cut down.

In the same period, Scotland planted 18,300 hectares – including 84% of all the new trees planted in the UK in 2018-19.

7. Deporting criminals

The prime minister spoke about wanting “to end the lunacy that stops us – for instance – deporting some violent offenders”.

He didn’t give any details, but the Conservative 2019 manifesto said: “We will use our new freedoms after Brexit to prevent more foreign national offenders entering our country. We will cut the number of foreign nationals in our prisons.”

After the transition deal ends on 31 December, it will be easier to deport criminals who are EU citizens. Previously deportations of EU citizens had to be “proportionate” to the crime and after an assessment on the actual threat they present to the UK.

But after 31 December both EU and non-EU citizens will still be covered by human rights rules – these include whether someone might be tortured on return to their country of origin or if they had a close family link to the UK.

In 2019, 5,110 foreign national offenders were deported.

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