British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to unveil ambitious plans yesterday for a 1930s US-style program of public works to ease the pain of recession by creating up to 100,000 jobs.
School repairs, new rail links, hospital projects and plans to usher in a new digital age by investing in superfast broadband will be used to keep unemployment down. The plans will also be used to tackle climate change by means of investments in eco-friendly projects such as electric cars and wind and wave power that would also create jobs.
Brown also pledged action within weeks to kickstart bank lending in an attempt to save jobs.
Brown is studying a scheme pioneered by Nissan to avoid redundancies in manufacturing, which would see ailing firms given government funding to move staff on to part-time working and use the remaining time for training.
His promise to use public money not only to create short-term jobs, but also to build a low-carbon economy for the future, will be seen as a modern reworking of the New Deal — a program of public works, such as dams and roads, to help the US recover from the Great Depression.
Brown even said his green plans would be bigger than US president-elect Barack Obama’s planned “Green New Deal,” relative to the size of Britain’s economy.
In a wide-ranging New Year interview at his family home in Scotland, Brown also ruled out an early second recapitalization of the banks; signaled opposition to deploying more troops in Afghanistan; and proclaimed an “historic opportunity” for a global deal on climate change.
Brown said his top priority would be to create and save jobs, amid predictions that by 2010 one in 10 Britons would be jobless. Retailers are expected to respond to disappointing sales last month by shedding staff this year.
“I want to show how we will be able, through public investments and public works, to create probably 100,000 additional jobs over the next period of time in our capital investment program — schools, hospitals, environmental work and infrastructure, transport,” Brown said.
The program will be funded by new money drawn partly from reserves.
One priority will be jobs in digital industries, while 30,000 jobs will be in school repairs, in an effort to help private construction firms ravaged by the downturn.
Brown said infrastructure such as high-speed broadband could be the modern equivalent of the New Deal.
“When we talk about the roads and the bridges and the railways that were built in previous times — and those were anti-recession measures taken to help people through difficult times — you could [by comparison] talk about the digital infrastructure and that form of communications revolution at a period when we want to stimulate the economy.”
He is also studying 10 specific projects on alternative energy sources.
He said the recession would not see green issues shelved.
“Rather than pushing the environment into a lower order of priority, the environment is part of the solution,” he said.
The government will also shortly unveil a payment holiday scheme for people struggling with their mortgages after redundancy. Brown insisted that they wanted to help “everybody who is genuinely trying to pay their mortgage back,” but admitted that lenders would ultimately decide eligibility.
Brown played down the prospect of injecting more state cash into struggling banks amid fears that October’s bailout had failed to boost credit flows.