“That is why we are proceeding with the new deal, the fair deal for the British people, which will be not just massive investment in our national health service—£34 billion in our NHS—and £14 billion more into our schools but an investment in infrastructure going up to £100 billion.”
That was the claim from Boris Johnson in the Commons today.
On hearing the Prime Minister’s words, you might think that the government’s “New Deal” announced yesterday will pump £34bn into the NHS and £14bn more into schools.
But that’s not the case.
The schools pledge was first announced in August 2019. It’s how much budgets will rise over three years, though the figure doesn’t account for inflation or rising student numbers.
Meanwhile, the £34bn for the NHS was first promised in 2018. It refers to the planned increase in spending on the health service, this time over five years. Again, it does not adjust for inflation (once we do that, the figure is closer to £20bn).
Yesterday’s New Deal announcement contains “Over £1bn to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme, starting from 2020-21” and “£1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance”. Rather less than the £14bn and £34bn Mr Johnson suggested in the Commons today.
What about “investment in infrastructure going up to £100bn”?
Again, that figure does not refer to yesterday’s New Deal: it was announced in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto, which committed the money for “roads, rail and other responsible, productive investment”.
The New Deal does pledge some cash in these areas: “£100m this year for 29 projects in our road network […] Plus £10m for development work to unblock the Manchester rail bottleneck, which will begin this year.” But nothing on the scale of the £100bn investment Mr Johnson suggests.
Mr Johnson made a similarly confusing assertion later in the same Commons session:
“Mr Speaker, let me just repeat and remind the House that overall, this package represents a £600bn package of investment in the UK economy.”
He was responding to criticism from Labour leader, Keir Starmer, who had just told MPs: “the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was investment equivalent to less than £100 per person across the United Kingdom, 0.2 per cent of GDP. Not much of his announcement was new, and it certainly wasn’t much of a deal.”
Anyone listening to the exchange would assume that when Mr Johnson responded by talking about “this package” he meant yesterday’s announcement. But the Prime Minister failed to clarify that the New Deal announcement is worth £5bn, not £600bn as he suggests.
And as Mr Starmer alluded to in his comments, even that £5bn isn’t new money. The government says the plan is to “bring forward” investments that were due to happen in the next few years – in the hopes of stimulating the economy this year as the country begins to recover from coronavirus.
So where’s the £600bn figure from?
It seems Mr Johnson is talking about the promise set out in the March Budget to raise capital investment to that amount over the five years of this Parliament. A significant pledge, certainly – but not one the government made yesterday, despite what Mr Johnson’s comments in the House implied.