In his statement on the Spending Review, George Osborne sought to give the impression that he was increasing infrastructure spending as the economy moved from “rescue to recovery”. He told the Commons:
Successive governments of all colours have put short term pressures over the long term needs and refused to commit to capital spending plans that match the horizons of a modern economy.
Today we change that.
We commit now to £50 billion pounds of capital investment in 2015.
From roads to railways, bridges to broadband, science to schools.
The reference to “now” made it appear as if the Chancellor had just produced a pot of new money. But there was none. Page 11 of the Spending Review document showed that capital investment would be £50.4bn in 2015-16, the same level as announced in this year’s Budget, and a 1.7 per cent cut in real-terms compared to 2014-15.
On the Today programme this morning, Evan Davis forced the Chancellor to strip away the smoke and mirrors. “It was a re-announcement,” he conceded. But his myth-making didn’t end there. Osborne went on to claim that under the coalition, capital spending had been “higher than the plans we inherited from the Labour Party”. In reality, as the table below shows, the government has invested £5bn less than Alistair Darling planned since 2010.
It’s worth adding that even if the coalition had announced new money yesterday, it wouldn’t take effect until 2015-16, two years too late. The economy certainly needs stimulus, but all Osborne offered yesterday was spin.