LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will borrow almost 400 billion pounds ($533.60 billion) in the current financial year to pay for the massive coronavirus hit to its economy, finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday.
The world’s sixth-biggest economy is set to shrink by 11.3% in 2020, its biggest contraction since the early 1700s, before growing by 5.5% in 2021, Sunak said as he announced a one-year spending plan.
“We’re prioritising jobs, businesses and public services,” he said, adding that the plan included a “once-in-a-generation” investment in infrastructure.
Below are the key measures.
Sunak said the UK was allocating an initial 18 billion pounds to fund programmes on testing, personal protective equipment and vaccines for next year.
The National Health Service (NHS) would be provided with 3 billion pounds for checks, scans and operations, to support its recovery from the impact of the pandemic.
To keep transport networks open, including subsidising train services, the government will provide 2 billion pounds, while local authorities will receive 3 billion pounds and devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland 2.6 billion.
Nurses, doctors and other NHS workers will receive a pay rise but increases for the rest of the public sector will be paused next year.
However, public workers earning less than 24,000 pounds will be guaranteed a pay rise of at least 250 pounds.
The government would accept in full recommendations to increase the National Living Wage by 2.2% to 8.91 pounds an hour, to extend this rate to those aged 23 and over, and to increase the National Minimum Wages as well, Sunak said.
Sunak said the NHS’s core budget will grow by 6.6 billion pounds, paying for 50,000 more nurses and 50 million more general practice appointments.
Capital investment will rise to 2.3 billion pounds to help replace ageing diagnostic machines and fund a hospital building programme.
He increased the schools’ budget next year by 2.2 billion pounds, saying every pupil in the country will see a year-on-year funding increase of at least 2%.
POLICING AND PRISONS
Funding for the criminal justice system will increase by over 1 billion pounds, while the government is providing more than 400 million to recruit 6,000 new police officers. There will be 4 billion pounds over four years to provide 18,000 new prison places.
FOREIGN AID BUDGET
Sunak cut Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.5% of national income for 2021, from its previous level of 0.7%, allocating 10 billion pounds to that area.
The finance minister said the government would publish a new National Infrastructure Strategy, as he announced capital spending next year of 100 billion pounds, 27 billion more in real terms than last year. That would pay for more homes, faster broadband, better mobile connectivity and upgraded roads and railways, plus new cycle lanes and zero emission buses. The government will also establish a new UK infrastructure bank.
A “Levelling Up Fund” worth 4 billion pounds - part of the Conservative government’s commitment to reducing inequality between the country’s affluent south and its more deprived north - was also announced, for which local areas will be able to bid directly to fund projects such as bypasses, libraries, museums and town centre improvements.
($1 = 0.7496 pounds)
Reporting by Sarah Young, Editing by Paul Sandle and Mark Heinrich
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