Sunday 28 June 2020 12:52 pm

Boris Johnson prepares spending splurge for 'thunderclap' economic downturn

Boris Johnson has pledged to spend tens of billions of pounds on a raft of infrastructure projects and jobs programmes to help the UK economy bounce back from the coronavirus crisis.

Johnson said he would “double down” on his election commitment to “level up” the country and would fast track a swathe of infrastructure projects.

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A new taskforce, called Project Speed, will look to cut down the time it takes to approve infrastructure projects.

The Prime Minister promised £100bn of infrastructure spending as a part of the Tories’ election manifest, with all mooted projects so far in the Midlands and the North.

Johnson is set to announce the full details of the programme on Tuesday, while chancellor Rishi Sunak will provide an economic statement next month.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Johnson said: “If Covid was a lightning flash, we’re about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences.

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“The lesson is to act fast and we’re going to make sure that we have plans to help people whose old jobs are not there any more to get the opportunities they need. We are absolutely not going back to the austerity of ten years ago.”

The Prime Minister last month promised that every young person in Britain would have the opportunity to get an apprenticeship, if they wanted it, as a part of the government’s economic response to the downturn.

Sunak has also been rumoured to be working on an extensive jobs programme to retain and reskill people affected by the crisis.

Johnson said: “We’re going to need a very committed, dynamic plan: not just for infrastructure, not just for investment but making sure that young people have the confidence they need that we are going to help them get into a place of work, to keep their skills up, to keep learning on the job and get a highly paid, highly skilled job that will stand them in good stead for a long time to come.

“We are going to have plans for work placements, supporting young people in jobs, apprenticeships, getting people into the workplace, making sure that their skills don’t just fall into disuse and we’re going to give an opportunity guarantee for all young people.”

Figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that UK GDP contracted by a record 20.4 per cent in April during the first month of the coronavirus lockdown.

There have also been spikes in Universal Credit claims, with mass unemployment expected when the government eases its furlough scheme from August.

Labour today warned that an extra 1m job losses could be added to the total of 2.8m without significant Treasury intervention.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband told The Observer that the government’s focus needed to be on “jobs, jobs, jobs”.

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“The scale of the economic emergency facing us is enormous. But the government is pulling the rug from under businesses employing one million people by demanding they start bearing the cost of the furlough when they don’t even know when they can reopen,” he said.

“The government’s approach will put jobs, businesses and livelihoods at risk, which will impose costs on us all. Failing to act to protect jobs now will only add to the burdens we face in higher benefit payments, lost tax revenues and a smaller economy.”