31/12/2011 08:44 GMT | Updated 29/02/2012 10:12 GMT

Olympics 2012: Austerity Calls Will Be Ignored, Says Jeremy Hunt

The Government will ignore calls for an "austerity Olympics" and instead use the event to help kick-start the economy, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated.

Mr Hunt said hosting the Games during the worldwide slowdown was an "incredible stroke of luck" as it would be a "huge plus sign" for UK plc.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he also insisted demonstrators would be tolerated as long as their protests were legitimate and lawful.

Ministers have faced demands for spending on the Olympics to be pared back in recognition of drastic efforts to tackle the deficit.

But Mr Hunt said voters would not forgive the coalition if it did not "make the most" of an unprecedented opportunity.

"You can take two attitudes to the Olympics," he said. "You can say: these are times of austerity and therefore we should pare them down as much as possible. Or, you can say: because these are times of austerity we need to do everything we possibly can to harness the opportunity of the Olympics.

"We're going to be the centre of global attention and it will be the first time that we've had a major sporting event that's watched live by half the world's population. People would not forgive us if we didn't make the absolute most of this moment.

"This is going to be an incredible expression of Britain's culture, Britain's history and Britain's creativity. So, we decided that the sensible thing to do is to make sure that we finance it properly."

The Government has contributed more than £9 billion for the London Games and there is still more than £500 million unallocated in "contingency" funds.

Earlier this week, Mayor of London Boris Johnson praised the 1948 austerity post-war Olympics in London, when athletes travelled by bus and other countries donated items.

However, Mr Hunt insisted the Olympics were vital for the economy.

Asked if they could be the difference between entering a double-dip recession and not, Mr Hunt replied: "I don't want to overstate that because there are many other factors ... but if you are saying, 'Will the Olympics have a massively positive impact on our economic confidence?' I think the answer is resoundingly yes."

He said the Olympics were bound to be targeted by protesters but, unlike at the 2008 Beijing Games, they would be treated with "dignity".

"We are proud to be a democratic country and protest is part of that tradition," he said. "We don't want to see disruption to the Games but we also recognise part of the package of Britain is that we allow protest providing it's lawful and legitimate."