Keir Starmer has branded Boris Johnson’s £5billion New Deal a rehashing of a manifesto pledge that will do little to stop a bonfire of jobs.
And the PM came under fire for trying to compare his actions to those of US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who led America out of the Great Depression in the 1930s with a mass employment drive.
Mr Johnson, who had promised to “build, build, build”, yesterday warned Brits to get ready for the “thunderclap” of the economic fall-out from coronavirus.
But Mr Starmer said the PM’s £5bn of infrastructure projects, ranging from roads to schools and hospital repairs, was nowhere near enough to tackle the looming crisis.
And TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady warned Mr Johnson’s announcement was a “far cry from Roosevelt’s New Deal”.
As easyJet became the latest firm to announce job losses, Mr Starmer added: “Well, 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, it’s the reannouncement of many manifesto pledges and commitments. It’s not enough.
“The focus has to be on jobs. People are likely to lose their jobs in huge numbers over the coming months and we need a laser-like focus on preserving those jobs. If these jobs are lost we are going to have mass unemployment. And that’s what we really need is a Budget in July.”
O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister has rehashed old promises. The £5billion of spending was reheated, and his spend-ing commitments are worth just 0.2% of GDP.
“This is a far cry from Roosevelt’s New Deal, which employed millions in public works. We face the biggest economic crisis in a generation. Without big fast action, millions face the misery of unemployment. This falls far short of what is needed.
“The Government needs to create millions of new jobs now. Far greater investment in infrastructure is needed to make those jobs a reality. And every project must be accompanied by a 2012 Olympics-style plan for jobs, prioritising local unemployed people and building skills.
“If the Prime Minister wants to match Roosevelt’s ambitions, he needs to deliver £150bn by 2024.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas added: “Johnson’s bargain basement New Deal lacks the boldness and spending of Roosevelt’s and it lacks any of the vision.
“Roosevelt recognised a crisis when he saw it and came up with an appropriate response. Tragically, Johnson does neither.”
The PM set out his New Deal in a speech at a technology college in the Tory seat of Dudley, West Mids.
With unemployment at the highest level for a generation, he insisted his strategy was for “jobs, jobs, jobs”. But he couldn’t say how many would be created.
And the £5bn pledged for capital spending – when £640bn had been promised over five years in the Budget – seems a pittance.
It includes £1.5bn for hospital repairs, when £6.5bn is needed, £100million for 29 road projects and £900m for local schemes such as parks and high streets.
Admitting the Government had been slow to react to the coronavirus outbreak, the PM said: “If the Covid crisis has taught us one thing it is that this country must be ready for what is coming.
“We must work fast, because we’ve already seen the vertiginous drop in GDP, and we know that people are worried about their jobs and their businesses.
“And we’re waiting as if between the flash of lightning and the thunderclap, with our hearts in our mouths, for the full economic reverberations to appear.”
Mr Johnson insisted his spending plans were “just part” of the Government’s broader £640bn investment ambitions.
Figures showed the UK economy shrank faster between January and March than at any time since 1979.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver an economic statement on July 8, with a focus on job creation and training.
Around 9.5 million workers are still supported by the Government’s furlough scheme. It has now paid out more than £25bn, but winds up in October.
Mr Johnson refused to rule out raising taxes to tackle the economic fall-out when asked if he would stick to his manifesto promise not to raise the rates of income tax, VAT or national insurance.
And the PM admitted that his plans would involve significant state intervention, which may trouble some Tory MPs, but said he still believed in the free market. He added: “I’m not a communist.”
In a move that will anger those facing unemployment, Mr Johnson urged the public to applaud bankers and bosses, in the same way they do for the NHS, claiming they have kept the economy going.
Mr Johnson has previously failed to deliver on promises, including a garden bridge in London, a Thames estuary airport and a bridge from England to Northern Ireland.