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Boris Johnson has said the programme of public spending cuts imposed by Conservative-led governments over the last 10 years “wasn’t actually austerity”.
The prime minister said an economic effort like the one enacted by former president Franklin D Roosevelt in his new deal out of the US’s great depression was needed for the coronavirus crisis.
“This is the time to invest in infrastructure, this is the time to make those long-term decisions for the good of the country,” he told Times Radio on Monday morning.
“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.
“I think this is the moment for a Rooseveltian approach to the UK.”
In April, Johnson claimed he “never particularly liked the term” austerity.
David Cameron, who introduced cuts to the public sector in response the financial crisis when he became prime minister in 2010, has said he should have cut further and faster.
“Those who were opposed to austerity were going to be opposed – and pretty hysterically – to whatever we did,” he said.
Johnson will attempt to kick-start the economy after Covid-19 with a decade-long schools rebuilding plan.
He is expected to announce a spending blitz during a speech on Tuesday as he lays the groundwork for the UK to spend its way out of the coronavirus downturn by undertaking a vast building programme.
Part of the plans will include a 10-year undertaking to improve school facilities, along with sprucing up classrooms currently in use.
A £1bn cash injection will see construction work start on the first 50 projects as soon as September 2021, Downing Street has said.
Another £5600m will go towards school repairs in this financial year while further education colleges will see £200m of the £1.5bn promised by chancellor Rishi Sunak at the spring budget to transform college estates over the next five years fast tracked so work can be brought forward.
Ed Miliband, ex-party leader and now shadow business secretary, said on Sunday he feared “Thatcher levels of unemployment” if the hospitality sector and others which could not fully reopen did not receive continued help from government.