Budget ‘deeply disappointing’, says Caroline Lucas

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has today (11 March) unveiled his first budget, focusing significant attention on the government’s plans to cope with the escalating coronavirus outbreak. With Sunak announcing that just £1 billion will be spent on green transport, against a £640 billion total infrastructure spend, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has described the spending plan as “criminally short-sighted”.

Caroline Lucas speaks to Andrew Marr
Caroline Lucas speaks to Andrew Marr
Imogen Benson

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has criticised Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first budget as “criminally short-sighted”, arguing that the proposed spending plan falls short of what is needed to tackle the climate emergency.

The budget, which was announced today (11 March) amid the growing global spread of coronavirus, includes a £640-billion spend on infrastructure such as roads, railways, schools and power networks. 

Commenting on the announcement, Lucas said: “The infrastructure spending falls far short of what is needed and is deeply disappointing.  In the face of the climate emergency, it is criminally short-sighted and a huge missed opportunity.

“Over the next ten years, we must transform our buildings, transport network, energy system and farming. If it’s done right, we could cut our greenhouse gas emissions, bring down people’s energy bills and create jobs in every constituency in the country. Based on this budget, we won’t.”

Ahead of a National Infrastructure Strategy, set to be published later in the spring, the 2020 Budget commits to spending over £27 billion on England’s roads, with only £1 billion allocated to green transport solutions.

Lucas explained: “Treasury decisions on tax and spending have to stop fuelling the climate emergency – whether it’s road building or tax breaks for fossil fuels. So it is astonishing that the Chancellor can say with one breath that this government is committed to leaving the environment in a better state than they found it, and then announce a huge spend on 4,000 miles of new roads, and upgrading others, amounting to £27 billion of tarmac.  

“The disconnect is jaw-dropping. If the Chancellor wants to show how muddled and mean he is on the environment, he is absolutely getting it done. The climate emergency cannot wait.  The time for new roads and fossil fuel infrastructure has long gone. 

“This budget should have marked a decisive end to all government support for high carbon infrastructure and environmentally destructive projects, and kick-started the green economic transition we need. It should have launched an entirely new economic approach, which prioritises human well-being and the health of the natural world, on which our economy and society ultimately depend. It has failed.”

Business rates

Recognising that businesses will be hit hard by the growing coronavirus crisis, Sunak announced that eligible retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a value below £51,000 will pay no business rates over the next financial year.

Lucas said: “All businesses are facing disruption over the coronavirus, especially SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises]. In my constituency, the hospitality industry is key to the local economy and is being hit especially hard, so I called on the Chancellor last night to give them the help they need to get through the coronavirus crisis with some relief from crippling business rates.

“I’m glad the Chancellor has listened, with support for pubs, restaurants, hotels and other businesses in the sector. 

“In particular, the announcement of loans, 80 per cent backed by government guarantee, and a 12-month business rates ‘holiday’ could be a lifeline. But this must not be at the expense of local authorities whose funding has been cut to the bone over the past ten years.”

Local Housing Allowance

With the budget announcing plans to spend £643 million on accommodation to reduce rough sleeping, Lucas, who has been an active campaigner for homelessness charity Centrepoint, commented: “The Chancellor has recognised my campaigning with Centrepoint on how young homeless people and care leavers are repeatedly let down – and that they deserve a chance to move on with their lives. 

 “So I welcome the details in the red book of extra money to give them housing benefit at a level which will actually allow them to find and keep a place to live and which will make a huge difference in their lives. However, it’s very disappointing that this change will not take effect until 2023 when it’s so desperately needed today. I’m therefore calling for discretionary housing payments for these groups to be made automatic now.”