After a year, what has Boris Johnson done for East Anglia?
- Credit: PA
Boris Johnson swept to power with promises of addressing some of East Anglia’s biggest problems. Covid-19 has understandably taken much of the PM’s time but what has the PM done for us?
A year. Twelve months. Three hundred and sixty five days.
And who could have predicted a year like the one the East of England and the whole world has endured? And continues to endure.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson received the keys to Number 10 in July 2019 with no idea of the trials and tribulations that awaited him – perhaps if he had known the PM would have harboured second thoughts.
His personal life continued in the colourful manner the public has come to expect: a divorce, a new baby, an engagement and a fight for his life when he was struck down with coronavirus.
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That alone would exhaust most humans. But on top of all that the prime minister faced the toughest peacetime challenge of any British leader in living memory.
This is an administration that will be defined by the ongoing battle with the pandemic. But it cannot be judged on that alone.
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Let us rewind to November last year. It seems like a lifetime ago, but nonetheless Mr Johnson promised in an interview with this newspaper that the East would no longer be ignored. The vital yet overlooked infrastructure projects – A12, A14, Copdock roundabout, A47, broadband connectivity, rail improvements – were top of the agenda. When pressed on whether his government would spend money on improving the East’s notoriously inadequate roads he replied emphatically: “Yes. Look at what I said I would do as mayor of London and what we did – I over delivered on the key things.
“When I put my mind to something we will deliver. We want to have an infrastructure revolution in this country. This is the right moment – interest rates are low. It is not just big ticket items – it is also about basics like road connectivity and dualling the A47, shortening the rail times, improving rural bus services ... I believe in these things absolutely passionately because they change people’s lives. And they boost the economy.
“In the last 45 years we have relied on London and South East and we have failed to unleash the potential of the rest of the UK. That is one of the reasons people voted for Brexit.”
And yet once again we have missed out. Once again when the chancellor announced the big projects there was no mention of Suffolk or Norfolk. When will we start to ask: “Hey Boris, what have we done wrong?”
East Anglia has huge unlocked potential. We have the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse – why not the East? With the right spending and management East Anglia could soar.
Being “good enough” has got the East by for too long. Now is the time to fight harder. But that blue touch paper needs to be lit by government. And we need to keep the pressure on.
Without a joined-up business community lobbying we stand to be let down by politicians. The Conservatives must not be allowed to channel all the spending to the so-called Red Wall.
Our stunning scenery and dreamy coastline is a million miles from the North’s Satanic mills, but we deserve attention as well.
East Anglia must not be left behind. The economic impact of the virus has made the push for major projects for the East even more important.
Norfolk and Suffolk must not be left to face the brunt of the pandemic.
Of course, Mr Johnson should be praised for some his government’s interventions. Many jobs and businesses have been saved thanks to grants and the furlough scheme. Voters will remember that and rightly so.
But we must not allow a year to roll into two and then five. This newspaper is proudly, fiercely politically independent – but when it comes to our readers and our business community we will fight – that fight goes on.
And that is a view echoed by our chambers of commerce.
Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communications and campaigns, said: “The business community will judge Boris Johnson’s first 12 months against three, still unresolved, big issues.
“Firstly, he promised to ‘Get Brexit done’. With the UK having left the EU earlier in the year, it remains vital that the remaining months of the transition period are used to secure clarity as regards this country’s trading relationship with the remaining 27 states. At the same time, the prime minister’s longer-term legacy will be judged on the government’s ability to strike trade deals throughout the rest of the world.
“Secondly, the levelling up agenda must not ignore Suffolk and the East of England as a whole. Suffolk Chamber remains worried that without concerted political pressure from our MPs, this county will struggle to get its fair share of investment in business-critical infrastructure, including that for 5G, the A14 and A12 and the eastern section of the East:West rail link from Oxford.
“Finally, the government’s economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic has shown it is willing to listen to the needs of our members and our campaigning asks. It deserves our thanks for this. That said, the government must not let up in its programme of business support as thousands of local jobs and hundreds of good businesses are at potential risk come the autumn and winter.”
Nova Fairbank, head of policy for Norfolk Chambers of Commerce, added: “Norfolk Chambers are looking for two clear things from Mr Johnson: Clarity and a fixing of the fundamentals.
“In relation to the coronavirus, Norfolk businesses need to see more clarity and well thought-out decisions, combined with sufficient lead in times to allow businesses to adapt.
“It is also vital for our county’s economic growth that we clearly demonstrate that Norfolk is ‘open for business’ so fixing the fundamentals means we want to see further improvements to our road, rail and digital infrastructure.
“Funds to dual the A47, the completion of the Norwich Western Link, more Norwich in 90 rail services and half hourly rail services from King’s Lynn to King’s Cross and improved broadband and mobile connectivity to allow local businesses to compete with the rest of the UK and overseas.”