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Stop wasting our money, UK's Labour tell PM Johnson

LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson must stop squandering taxpayers’ money and start spending it on projects to improve citizens’ quality of life, the opposition Labour Party said on Saturday, promising a rival vision for post-coronavirus Britain.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak will on Wednesday announce tens of billions of pounds of infrastructure investment and set spending budgets for the next year - focusing on how to ‘level up’ opportunity in poorer regions outside London.

Ahead of that, Labour’s would-be finance minister Anneliese Dodds accused Sunak and Johnson of wasting public money during the coronavirus pandemic and a long-term failure to fix imbalances during the Conservative Party’s 10 years in power.

“After a decade of letting Britain down, people don’t want to hear more empty rhetoric and last-minute decision-making from this government,” Dodds said in a statement ahead of her appearance at a Reuters Newsmaker event on Monday.

Johnson won a huge election victory last year built on twin promises to take Britain out of the European Union, which he did in January, and to spread the wealth and prosperity concentrated around London to all four corners of the United Kingdom.

But the COVID-19 crisis has blown a 200 billion pound ($265.6 billion) hole in Johnson’s regeneration plans. Critics of his government’s response say it has made regional divisions even worse and disproportionately impacted those living on lower incomes.

Labour, under new leadership since Keir Starmer took over from left-wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn in April, are looking to capitalise on public dissatisfaction with Johnson’s handling of the crisis and capture voters’ trust on the economy.

“Ten years of Conservative failures has seen billions wasted on pet projects and white elephants instead of action to make a difference to people’s lives,” Dodds said, pointing to costly procurement deals signed during the crisis and failed attempts by Johnson to complete infrastructure projects.

Johnson has defended the handling of protective equipment deals during the pandemic after a spending watchdog said suppliers with political links had been fast-tracked and criticised a lack of government transparency.

Full details of Dodds’ alternative vision are to be set out on Monday, but will be built around the party’s mission to make Britain “the best place to grow up and the best place to grow old in.” ($1 = 0.7529 pounds) (Reporting by William James, editing by Louise Heavens)

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