Boris Johnson vows Britain won't return to austerity as he unveils 'Project Speed' building pledge

Prime minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Pizza Pilgrims restaurant in east London. (PA)

Boris Johnson has vowed not to go back to “the austerity of 10 years ago” as he pledged billions to help the economy bounce back from coronavirus.

The prime minister announced plans for a new infrastructure delivery task force, which will be chaired by chancellor Rishi Sunak, called “Project Speed”.

It will be responsible for delivering 40 new hospitals, 10,000 extra prison places and a school rebuilding programme, Johnson said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

"We want to build our way back to health,” he said. “If COVID was a lightning flash, we're about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences. We're going to be ready."

NHS workers leave the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London, which was said to have inspired the PM's new infrastructure taskforce. (Getty)

“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,” the PM added.

“We are absolutely not going back to the austerity of 10 years ago.”

The development comes as reports suggested a further one million people could become jobless – adding to the 2.8 million already out of work – if further government support is not announced by August.

Downing Street said the speed at which the NHS Nightingale hospitals were created across the country during the deadly outbreak inspired Johnson to set up the task force.

The group will be told there are now "no excuses for delays" to building programmes after the country demonstrated it can move at pace during a national emergency.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The coronavirus response has shown that it doesn't have to take years to get essential projects off the ground – the Nightingale hospitals and ventilator challenge were up and running in a matter of weeks.

"As we recover from the pandemic we must apply that same urgency to the major projects at the foundations of this country and get them done right, to truly level up opportunity across the UK.

"There's now no excuse for delays. Infrastructure has the power to rebuild and repair our country – and we will do it better, faster and more strategically than before."

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