Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will ramp up unprecedented government spending, as it seeks to mitigate the impact of coronavirus, which has been a “disaster” for the country.
Johnson told Times Radio he wants to double down on his plans to increase public investment, and that a return to austerity would be a mistake.
The government has already announced emergency spending and tax measures worth an estimated £133bn so far during the pandemic. Today it revealed an additional £1bn injection for rebuilding 50 schools in England, starting next year.
“[Coronavirus] has been a disaster,” Johnson said. “Let’s not mince our words, I mean this has been an absolute nightmare for the country and the country has gone through a profound shock.”
He added that he wants to take a “Rooseveltian” approach to the economy, in reference to former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt whose ambitious New Deal programme helped the US recover from the Great Depression.
Johnson’s comments follow a speech by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove over the weekend, in which he argued the Civil Service needs to apply the thinking of the New Deal if it is to avoid falling into “group think”.
“Government departments recruit in their own image, are influenced by the think tanks and lobbyists who breathe the same London air and are socially rooted in assumptions which are inescapably metropolitan,” he said.
“An important part of bringing government closer to people is making sure we have not just a wider spread of decision-making across the country but a broader and deeper pool of decision-makers.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer this morning laid into Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, saying the PM has been “asleep at the wheel”.
He criticised the government’s failures in establishing the NHS Test and Trace system, as well as Johnson’s support for top adviser Dominic Cummings who was caught flouting lockdown rules.
Johnson said today that now was not the right time for an inquiry into “what went wrong and when”.
“I totally understand that and we will. I happen to think that the moment is not right now… when everybody is flat out, I don’t think the moment is right now for consecrating a huge amount of official time to all of that,” he said.