Labour has criticised Rishi Sunak for “lots of announcements and not much delivery” on infrastructure projects, as the chancellor conceded that of £7bn in this week’s budget for expanding regional transport links, only £1.5bn is new money.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said she welcomed moves to improve transport in cities such as her own, Leeds, but she was deeply sceptical about what would happen, citing long delays and uncertainty surrounding projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2.
Asked if infrastructure announcements in Wednesday’s budget would help, Reeves told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “Let’s hope so. But what we see from this government is lots of announcements and not much delivery.
“Northern Powerhouse Rail, that would benefit Leeds – and Bradford, and Manchester, and towns and cities across Yorkshire – was first announced seven years ago. It’s been announced 60 times since then, and there’s still not a single spade in the ground, or train on the rails.
“It’s not good enough. They’re going to make more announcement this week, but what we’re sick of in the north is having announcements without the delivery on the ground.”
Interviewed earlier on the same programme, Sunak refused to say whether HS2 would be built in fully to Leeds, or whether Bradford would be connected to Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The chancellor said the metro mayors Andy Street and Andy Burnham had welcomed the announcements. “So what the money announced yesterday was about is about what we call intracity transportation, that’s about how do we get people who live in and around a city to be able to get into the middle of it and out again easily,” he said.
Challenged on how much of the £7bn for this was new, Sunak said he had already announced £4.2bn for the “overall envelope for improve how people get around our big cities … What we’ve actually done is top that up, as you said, by £1.5bn, but then crucially give out the allocations in that envelope – where all the bits are going to go.”
Asked about another budget announcement unveiled in advance for £500m to help early years provision, Sunak denied this was tacit acceptance that it had been wrong for Conservative-led governments from 2010 to cut Sure Start centres.
The new investment was based on work done by colleagues such as the former business secretary Andrea Leadsom on early intervention, he said.
“So what we’re announcing is funding to create a network of family hubs which are broader than the Sure Start centres, and they bring together lots of different services for new parents, and for the first time, we’re going to roll those out.”
Questioned about the plan, Reeves rejected this argument. She said: “I would say to the chancellor: have you ever heard of Sure Start? Because that is what your governments, over the last 11 years, have cut. It’s all well and good saying we’re going to invest in these family parks, but thousands of children’s centres and Sure Start centres that were proud features of our communities, particularly of our poorer communities, have long gone.
“If you hadn’t taken all that away, imagine the difference it could have made to the lives of young people and to their parents. And this pale imitation that doesn’t even take us back to where we were in 2010, I think is an insult to all those people who made sure start happen in the first place.
“It really was an act of criminality to rip that all up, only to now, 11 years later, create a pale imitation of it.”