Budget 2020: New Chancellor to invest 'historic amounts' on infrastructure and innovation

11 March 2020, 06:25

New Chancellor Rishi Sunak works on his budget
New Chancellor Rishi Sunak works on his budget. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

New Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to use his first budget to pledge to invest "historic amounts" on infrastructure and innovation.

Against a backdrop of coronavirus instability, the Chancellor will promise hundreds of billions of pounds to help support infrastructure projects, such as roads, railways, broadband and housing.

The Treasury is also expected to include new laws which will aim to ensure that people who rely on cash, including vulnerable groups and local communities across the UK, can access it as and when they need it.

Mr Sunak has not ruled out breaking the fiscal rules limiting taxation and spending set out in the Conservative manifesto as he seeks to guide the UK through the instability.

One key Tory election pledge was that the party would not borrow to fund day-to-day spending and would ensure debt drops in five years' time, so many eyes will be on the Chancellor as he stands at the dispatch box.

However, Boris Johnson's Government has faced criticism for delaying its key National Infrastructure Strategy to tackle the climate crisis and boost transport connectivity.

Speaking on the eve of his first Budget, Mr Sunak pledged that "no region will be left behind" when he unveils the financial plan.

"We have listened and will now deliver on our promise to level up the UK, ensuring everyone has the same chances and opportunities in life, wherever they live," he added.

"By investing historic amounts in British innovation and world-class infrastructure, we will rebalance opportunities and lay the foundations for a decade of growth for everybody."

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused the Treasury of publishing "exaggerated claims" on partially fixing infrastructure he blamed the Tories for damaging.

"Mr Sunak is asking us to congratulate him for partially rebuilding what the Conservatives have destroyed over the last 10 years," the Labour MP added.

Mr McDonnell also warned that public services are in a "vulnerable position" to deal with the "shock" of the coronavirus as he called for urgent investment.

Mr Sunak has faced calls to provide businesses with immediate support, particularly to those facing losses and payments to sick or self-isolating staff.

The Government had pledged to deliver its £100 billion National Infrastructure Strategy on Wednesday, but that was now being delayed for a number of months.

The detailed plan should set out transport plans while working towards achieving the pledge of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But his first Budget is expected to include a £5 billion investment to roll out faster broadband across the UK by 2025.

A further £5 billion is expected to be made available in loans in order to boost post-Brexit exports, while £2.5 billion would be spent to repair 50 million potholes.

Mr Sunak was also anticipated to double funding for flood defences to £5.3 billion after the storm damage seen across swathes of the nation.

The Office for Budget Responsibility's forecasts for the deficit, debt, GDP and productivity will also be revealed on Wednesday, potentially shedding some light on how Brexit may affect the economy.