Johnson pledges spending blitz to heal economy after Covid

The Prime Minister said he is preparing for an effort comparable to Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Boris Johnson: Covid has been a nightmare. Getty Images
Boris Johnson: Covid has been a nightmare.

Boris Johnson has promised an infrastructure spending blitz to revitalise the battered UK economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Prime Minister said he was preparing for an effort comparable to Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal following the Great Depression in the US in the 1930s.

As the first phase, the UK Government is setting out details of a major schools rebuilding and refurbishment programme in England worth more than £1bn.

Education is an area of policy devolved to Scotland, however increased spending in England will correlate to more cash for the Scottish Government in the form of Barnett consequentials.

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Johnson is expected to lay out further commitments on the economy in a keynote speech on Tuesday.

Speaking on Times Radio, he said: “This is the time to invest in infrastructure, this is the time to make those long-term decisions for the good of the country.

“You have to be careful, and the Chancellor will be setting out our plans in the spending review in the autumn.

“But, in the end, what you can’t do at this moment is go back to what people called ‘austerity’ – it wasn’t actually austerity but people called it austerity – and I think that would be a mistake.

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“I think this is the moment for a Rooseveltian approach to the UK.”

Johnson acknowledged that coronavirus has been a “disaster” and a “nightmare” for the UK but insisted the country will pull through.

“This has been a disaster, let’s not mince our words, this has been an absolute nightmare for the country,” he said.

“The country has gone through a profound shock. But in those moments you have the opportunity to change and to do things better.”

He added: “The government will remain very, very much engaged with people, with businesses helping everybody to get through this.

“We had to put our arms around the UK economy, we had to do the coronavirus job retention scheme, the furlough scheme, all sorts of amazing loans, bounce-back loans and so on, to help businesses, we can’t just now step back.

“So what we’re going to be doing in the next few months is really doubling down on our initial agenda, which was all about investment, if you remember, in infrastructure, in education, in technology, to bring the country together.”

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The PM said there will be “some bumpy times” ahead but the UK will get through the economic fallout, adding that people “instinctively” knew it would be tough.

“We’ve seen a big fall in our GDP and everybody understands as we come out of it there are going to be some bumpy times.

“But the UK is an amazingly dynamic, resilient economy and we’re going to come through it very, very well indeed.”

Johnson also responded to criticism over the resignation of Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK’s top civil servant.

Sedwill is standing down from his role as both cabinet secretary and the UK’s national security adviser amid reports he was being undermined by allies of the PM.

The Prime Minister played down the “negative briefing” and said he did not attach the “utmost credence” to the reports.

Johnson added: “(Sedwill) has seen the government through all sorts of very tough stuff – changes in the premiership, an election, Brexit, dealing with the worst bits of the Covid crisis.

“He has got a lot more to offer and I am sure he will.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for an emergency budget this month to prepare for the prospect of millions of job losses as programmes such as the government’s furlough scheme wind down.

Speaking on BBC radio, he said: “It’s staggering that in light of the economic crisis that is about to descend upon us that we are not having a July budget that puts jobs at the centre of economic recovery.”

Labour said all regions had seen a decrease in both health and education investment per person since David Cameron became prime minister in 2010.

Starmer added: “For much of the country, the Tories’ record on building and investment has been a lost decade.

“Our recovery from the coronavirus crisis needs to match the scale of the challenge.”

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