‘Build, build, build’ says the prime minister but East asks: ‘When, when, when?’

Boris Johnson has revealed his £5 billion 'New Deal'. But hoped-for projects like improvements for t

Boris Johnson has revealed his £5 billion 'New Deal'. But hoped-for projects like improvements for the A47 and A14 were not mentioned. - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson has unveiled his own New Deal in a bid to spark the economy. But East Anglia did not even get a mention.

In 1933 new US president Franklin D Roosevelt set his sights on recovery.

The US was on its knees after the Great Depression. The 1929 stock market crash prompted an unprecedented spike in unemployment and poverty.

The world hasn’t seen anything like it since. Until now.

In Mr Roosevelt’s speech he famously said the people had “nothing to fear but fear itself” adding: “Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

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Yesterday Boris Johnson also set his sights on recovery. But both the prime minister and the people of East Anglia sadly have a lot more to fear than fear itself.

The coronavirus has taken a huge bite out of our economy.

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Businesses in Norfolk, Suffolk, north Essex and Waveney are only now – more than three months since the PM locked the nation down – starting to reopen. Many are still not able to do so.

As the high streets in Bury St Edmunds, Norwich, Ipswich and everywhere in between have returned to something like normal a slight air of optimism has been evident. But weeks of trade has been lost.

During the second half of 2020 many business leaders will be having to make some very tough decisions: job losses, spending cuts and even whether their firms are viable anymore.

Once the furlough scheme ends the real pain will start.

But the prime minister has a plan: “Build, build, build.”

Infrastructure projects – on a huge scale like the Hoover Dam for example – kick-started the US economy back in the 1930s. And by the time the world emerged from the devastation of the Second World War the US was the undisputed global power.

Building – with the correct planning laws in place of course – is a surefire way of sparking a flagging economy. And this newspaper welcomes wholeheartedly any plans to boost the economy. This is a moment of true national emergency and businesses across the region will welcome much of the rhetoric from Mr Johnson.

A return to austerity would have sent a shiver down our already frozen spine.

But where is the detail? Where is the hope for us here in the East? And is this really on a par with Mr Roosevelt’s lauded New Deal?

The prime minister said: “If it sounds like the New Deal - that is how it is meant to sound and meant to be because that is what the times demand.”

But he has a track record of big promises on infrastructure. Remember the Boris Island Airport? The garden bridge across the Thames? He even talked about a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. What next Mr Johnson? A ladder to the moon? A waterslide from Southwold to Florida?

“A prosperous United Kingdom must be a connected kingdom and that is why we are now accelerating projects from the South West to the North East from Wales, to Scotland, to Northern Ireland,” very good prime minister, but what about East Anglia?

“We will carry out a study of all future road, rail, air and cross-sea links between our all our four parts of the UK. When did a government first promise to dual the A1 to Scotland? It was 1992. Well this government is going to do it.” What about the A47? What about the A14?

So exactly what did the PM announce?

• £1.5 billion to be allocated this year to hospital maintenance

• More than £1 billion for a 10-year school rebuilding programme

• £100 million to be spent on road projects

• £900 million for “shovel-ready” local growth projects in England during 2020/21.

Nova Fairbank, head of policy for Norfolk Chambers of Commerce said: “The infrastructure delivery plans must take shape on the ground swiftly to give a real confidence boost to local businesses and communities.

“The impact of Covid-19 has been unprecedented but many businesses are demonstrating a strength and resilience and already striving to recover and grow.

“However, the government must go even further over the coming days to rekindle business and consumer confidence, as part of a wider road map to economic recovery. This is a critical moment, and business communities need this government to be bolder than any previous government has ever been.

“Essentially, we need to fix the fundamentals that will allow Norfolk businesses to continue to thrive. Investment commitments to dual the A47 – an essential east/west road link; further upgrading of digital connectivity to enable our businesses to easily and effectively trade widely across the UK and overseas; and investment in skills to ensure our businesses can deliver high growth jobs and economic growth for the whole county.”

And John Dugmore chief executive Suffolk Chamber of Commerce added: “‘Build, build, build’ is a good headline, but unless the A14 in Suffolk - Britain’s premier trade route, is specifically upgraded to support the country’s international trade push, then UK exporters and importers will be left disappointed by the government’s rationale.

“Linking the Port of Felixstowe to the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, the A14 in Suffolk is the equivalent of a country track – and not fit for the UK’s free trade future.

“The Suffolk Chamber-led campaign to address seven key pinch points along its route and its elevation to an expressway achieved a partial success earlier in the year when the Copdock Interchange was earmarked for possible investment from 2025.

“Unless this spending is brought forward to the present day and the other junctions included, it will be a wasted opportunity and the question will be asked ‘When? When? When?’”

The ambition of this government to build Britain back to health is backed by business – and it is exciting. But during the general election campaign Mr Johnson promised to fix the East’s biggest problems.

Back then this newspaper said we would hold him to his words.

So, Mr Johnson where is our cash?

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