LONDON

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday promised a “new deal” to rebuild the economy hit by the lockdown enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to be able to move with levels of energy and speed that we have not needed for generations,” he said, outlining measures to revive the battered economy.

Speaking on a podium with the logo “Build, build, build” in the background, he asked people to use this time to plan a response to fix problems “brutally illuminated in that Covid lightning flash.”

“This is a government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades,” he said.

He said the central plank of the plan is construction, announcing that the government would shortly bring forward the most radical reforms to the planning system since the end of the World War II.

“We must work fast because we have already seen the vertiginous drop in GDP and we know that people are worried about their jobs and their businesses and we are waiting as if between the flash of lightning and the thunderclap with our hearts in our mouths for the full economic reverberations to appear,” he said.

Johnson said reforms include cutting red tape involved in converting commercial properties into residential housing – a move to kick-start the construction industry and speed up rebuilding.

The changes, set to come into effect in September, also include measures to manage public sector land more effectively.

“Why does UK public procurement take 50% longer than in France or Germany? Why are UK capital costs typically between 10 and 30% higher than other European projects?” he asked.

Delays in system make for ‘massive drain’

He said that in 2018 the UK built 2.25 homes per 1,000 people, while Germany managed 3.6, the Netherlands 3.8, and France 6.8.

“The counting delays in the system are a massive drain on the productivity and prosperity of his country,” he said, underlining that the new reforms will help the UK “build better and build greener” and also faster.

He also offered every young person an “opportunity guarantee” that would secure them either an apprenticeship or an in-work placement.

“It sounds positively Rooseveltian. It sounds like a New Deal. And all I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, “he said.

Science superpower 

With his characteristic upbeat tone, Johnson said: “We have the knack of innovation. We lead the world in quantum computing, in bioscience, in artificial intelligence space satellites, net-zero planes, and in the long-term solutions to global warming wind and solar technology carbon capture and storage.”

He said though Britain is no longer a military superpower, it can be a science superpower.

Johnson said coronavirus is still out there “circling like a shark in the water,” but said the country could focus on recovery.

Critics say that Johnson’s plans to infuse £5 billion ($6.15 billion) in infrastructure spending are not up to the scale of the economic crisis the country is facing.

The Office for National Statistics, the UK’s official statistics agency, reported on Tuesday that the economy shrank 2.2% in the first quarter of 2020, larger than previously thought and the largest quarterly fall since 1979.

The IMF has said that the UK is due to suffer one of the worst recessions in the G7. The UK economy is dominated by the services sector, which the pandemic has hit particularly hard.

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