Danny Alexander was accused of insulting the intelligence of the British people today, after he unveiled £100 billion of capital investment despite government documents showing there would actually be a cut in infrastructure funding.
The chief secretary to the Treasury unveiled plans to share funds out among roads, railways, housing, power stations, high-speed broadband and flood defences.
But the statement to the Commons came amid criticism of the government's rhetoric on infrastructure spending.
While George Osborne strongly suggested that the investment money was new during the spending review yesterday, the small print revealed that total investment would fall by 1.7% in 2015 once inflation is taken into account.
Speaking immediately after the Alexander statement, former home secretary David Blunkett branded it "an insult to the intelligence of the British people".
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie added: "What a lot of hot air. When is the government going to pull its finger out and actually start to build something?
"There's no new money for infrastructure here. He's reheating old announcements. "
Alexander said the plans were proof the government's "policy horizons" were shifting, even if it did not add up to a 'Plan B'.
"Let me tell the House in all candour, these are not easy choices," he said.
"There is no easy way to create jobs and prosperity. It is a difficult path but the right one.
"Today I announce the most comprehensive, ambitious and long-lasting capital investment plans this country has ever known."
Even though real-terms capital investment spending will be down in 2015, Alexander was able to make the comments because he was looking ahead to 2020.
Alexander aimed to sell off £15 billion of public assets by 2020, in the form of corporate and financial assets as well as land and property assets.
"Government is the custodian of the taxpayer's assets. When we no longer need them, we should sell them back at a fair price, not act like a compulsive hoarder," he told the Commons.
But even the Speaker appeared to lose patience with the chief secretary of the Treasury and at one point appeared to demand that he finish an over-long sentence.
"I think the minister is nearing the end?" John Bercow asked.
Alexander replied curtly: "I'm certainly nearing the end of this statement."
Elsewhere, Alexander appeared to be on good form, making several jokes about the Labour benches.
"If they stop fracking around on the front bench they might learn something," he said.
Mischievous Labour MPs greeted many sentences from the chief secretary to the Treasury with sarcastic 'hear, hear's.
Among the announcements made by Alexander were:
- A £200 million fund for initial scoping work on Crossrail 2
- A major upgrading the A14 connecting Felixstowe with the Midlands to start two years early.
- Funds to upgrade the northern stretch of A1, to provide a continuous motorway or dual carriage link between London and Scotland.
- £250 million investment in fast broadband infrastructure
- A £370 million to improve flood defences with a year-on-year real terms increase
- More lanes on the A303
- Social rents to be set at one per cent above inflation until 2025
- £3 billion more capital over three years from 2015 to build 165,000 new affordable homes.
- £10 billion to clear a backlog of repairs in schools