Gordon Brown on Sunday insisted 100,000 jobs could be created in public works and new green industries in the coming years, amid fears that the first months of 2009 could see a rapid rise in unemployment.
Mr Brown will embark on an extended regional tour this week to see the impact of the recession at first hand, insisting the government has a plan to reduce the impact of the downturn. The cabinet will also meet on Thursday in Liverpool – a particularly hard-hit victim of the recession of the early 1980s – as part of a government effort to show it understands the problems facing the country.
Mr Brown’s claim to be overseeing a big job creation programme was greeted with scepticism by the Tories, who claim the government is already running out of money.
But the prime minister insisted that a £10bn capital programme – including the acceleration of existing plans – would help alleviate unemployment, which some analysts expect to approach 3m by the end of the year.
“I want to show how we will be able, through public works, to create probably 100,000 additional jobs over the next period of time in our capital investment programme – schools, hospitals, environmental work and infrastructure, transport,” Mr Brown told the Observer.
The overall capital allocations have already been announced, but Mr Brown will give details of the spending plans – including investment in green industries and ambitious plans for the rail network – in coming months.
Only a small fraction of an £18bn boost for the economy had yet been spent, he told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “We have spent £1bn of a total of £18bn to be spent . . . we have just started.”
Mr Brown will on Monday join Alistair Darling, chancellor, and Lord Mandelson, business secretary, in talks with regional and business leaders. He will also preside over a “jobs summit” next Monday. The flurry of activity reflects ministerial fears that unemployment is set to become one of the defining political issues of 2009.
Mr Brown and David Cameron, Conservative leader, both appear to agree that Britain’s post-recession future lies in investment in green technology and high-speed broadband.
“When we talk about the roads and the bridges and the railways that were built in previous times – and those were anti-recessionary measures – you could talk about the digital infrastructure at a period when we want to stimulate the economy,” Mr Brown said.
The prime minister also insisted that the downturn would not weaken his commitment to tackling climate change and other environmental issues. “The environment is part of the solution.”
The government has indicated its support for a tidal barrage across the River Severn while Mr Brown has become an advocate of the development of electric cars.