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Unions brand Johnson's ‘build, build, build’ plans as bluff and bluster

BORIS JOHNSON’S pledge to “build, build, build” amounts to less than meets the eye, trade unionists said today as he unveiled his plans for an economic recovery.

The Prime Minister unveiled a “spending spree” to help the economy cope with the coronavirus crisis – but politicians and trade unions said it was not enough to address the crippling problems caused by a decade of austerity.

Mr Johnson promised his response would not be a return to that austerity, but a stimulus package inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt’s “New Deal” of the 1930s.

But trade unions warned that public services are “teetering on the edge.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “These moves are in the right direction but must be far bolder if they’re to do more than patch up the damage from a decade of cuts.

“The UK can’t build its way out of trouble while local authorities still have to shut local services like parks, libraries and children’s centres.”

The “build, build, build” plan outlined by the Tory leader precedes a programme by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support the economy through the first phase of the recovery next week. 

The Prime Minister’s proposals include £1.5 billion to be allocated this year to hospital maintenance and more than £1 billion for a 10-year school rebuilding programme.

But the Tory leader was accused of deflecting from his party’s “abysmal” record on housebuilding, with Labour claiming the government is “slashing planning regulations for its wealthy developer backers, not building good quality, environmentally sustainable and truly affordable housing for workers.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "The Prime Minister promised a new deal, but there is not much that’s new, and it’s not much of a deal.

“We are facing an economic crisis — the biggest we have 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 reannouncement of many manifesto pledges and commitments.”

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the government’s lax attitude is a risk to public safety and called on Mr Johnson to ensure that school developers make safety a high priority. 

FBU assistant general secretary Andy Dark said: “As we have seen with the Grenfell Tower fire and other instances of safety failings, loose regulation has left companies and councils able to take shortcuts that ultimately put lives at risk. 

“We cannot allow that to continue happening in our schools.”

Researchers have also hit out at the lack of concrete solutions provided by Mr Johnson, calling for “real investment, not just rhetoric.”

Dr Faiza Shaheen, director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class), said the announcement was a “vague, ambiguous and uncosted speech” and fell short of what the country needs. 

She added: “The speech was simply not good enough and this country will suffer as a consequence.”

The Conservatives also faced criticism for the lack of an environmental policy, as well as the £100 million investment in road projects.

Union leaders and politicians have expressed anger at the lack of thought given to the climate emergency, describing Mr Johnson’s approach as “catastrophic.”

The RMT’s Mick Lynch said: “What Boris Johnson is announcing today is a drop in the ocean of what we need to recover from the economic effects of the pandemic. 

“What we need instead is a transformation to green transport through massively expanding public transport operating subsidies, capital investment and capacity to deliver publicly owned bus, metro, rail and ferry services which are more frequent, affordable, attractive and safer to use.”

Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie added: “This is the bleakest possible vision of a recovery from coronavirus, dressed up in the language of a green new deal.

“This is yet more rhetoric on a green recovery without the action or urgency required.

“This is no new deal — Boris Johnson even hailed the free market financiers who have caused the most damage. It’s very much the old deal on stilts.”

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