All The Promises In Rishi Sunak's Big Vision Speech, And Which Have Been Made Before
Rishi Sunak delivered a speech setting out his policy agenda as Prime Minister in east London today, including five key pledges which he asked the public to judge his premiership on.
He promised to “deliver peace of mind” about the year ahead in the face of record-breaking inflation, pressures in the NHS and widespread strikes after 12 years of Conservative government.
The speech comes a day ahead of another made by Labour leader Keir Starmer, which he will also use to preview his party’s plans for the next 12 months.
“Despite all the challenges we face, all the anxieties that people feel, I know we can get there,” Sunak said.
“Others may talk about change, I will deliver it. I won't offer you false hope or quick fixes.”
He repeatedly stated that the public “should hold me to account for delivering” his five main pledges and that he was “confident that we will”.
Here is everything that Sunak announced, and which parts the government has already promised:
New legislation on strikes
With strikes being staged across multiple sectors, including the rail network and the NHS, Sunak said he wanted to clear up some “misinformation” about the government’s position.
“We hugely value public sector workers like nurses, they do incredibly important work. And that's why we want a reasonable dialogue with the unions about what's responsible and fair for our country,” he said.
While the government has engaged in "discussions" with NHS unions, they have repeatedly refused to enter formal negotiations over pay, which the Royal College of Nursing has said would halt strikes.
Sunak added that the government would give an update in the coming days on its plans to introduce legislation to limit disruptive strike action.
Before Christmas, Downing Street confirmed they were exploring options for such legislation, originally proposed in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, but there are doubts among Conservative MPs that legislation could pass before the end of this Parliament meaning it would not impact the current wave of strikes.
Asked by reporters following his speech what form this legislation may take, Sunak said that “the right to strike has to be balanced with the right of the British public to be able to go about their lives without suffering completely undue disruption”.
He said the new laws would restore that balance and “protect people’s lives as well as their livelihoods”.
Sunak went on to insist that he would “celebrate and value the work of unions in our society” and the “important role” they play in society.
Sunak’s first pledge was to halve inflation over the next year in order “to ease the cost of living and give people financial security” after rates soared to record highs recently.
He said that this and other issues were “the legacy of COVID and impacted by the war in Ukraine”, but admitted that this was “not an excuse” and the government needs to “address these problems”.
The UK is currently experiencing record-breaking levels of inflation, which currently sits at 10.7 per cent after hitting a 41-year high of 11.1 per cent in October.
The Bank of England has already set a target to keep inflation at two per cent, and it ultimately implemented the largest base interest rate increase since 1989 in November to help reduce inflation.
The 0.75 percentage point rise took the base rate to three per cent, and was increased again by 0.5 percentage points in December to 3.5 per cent.
The Bank has previously stated it expects UK inflation to fall sharply from the middle of this year as energy prices begin to plateau and the effects of energy support schemes are felt.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has also forecasted that inflation will fall to 3.8 per cent by the end of this year, which is lower than Sunak's target.
Growing the economy
The Prime Minister’s second pledge was to grow the economy by creating “better paying jobs and opportunity right across the country”.
He went on to say that “a better future is one where our economy is growing faster” and providing “new opportunities for better paying good jobs”.
However, the Prime Minister did not explicitly set out what measures he would take to grow the economy, or what metrics he would use to measure success.
He went on to suggest that the “most powerful way” to achieve growth was by making sure that “the UK is the most innovative economy in the world,”.
Sunak said he wanted to make the UK “a beacon of science, technology and enterprise and lift our productivity, raise our growth rate and create jobs in the decades to come”.
In the Financial Times’ annual survey of economists, many warned that the UK was facing its worst and longest recession in modern history.
More than four-fifths of the 101 respondents polled expected the UK to lag its peers, with GDP already shrinking and set to do so for much or all of 2023.
The survey also found that many economists believed the UK’s downturn would be both deeper and longer than comparable countries due to a combination of factors including Brexit, a tight labour market and NHS pressures.
The OBR has predicted that the UK is set to face its sharpest decline in living standards on record, with real household disposable income will drop by 4.3 per cent in 2023.
Reducing national debt
Sunak’s third pledge was to make sure that the UK’s national debt was falling over the next year to ensure “that we can secure the future of public services”.
The Prime Minister did not set out what measures would be implemented to ensure that national debt falls.
Government borrowing hit its highest level on record in November, largely driven by the cost of energy support schemes.
Total borrowing hit £22bn, up from £13.9bn in November 2021, while total interest on government debt rose by 50.1 per cent to 7.3bn.
The increase in borrowing came despite the government taking £2.2bn more in tax in November compared with the year before.
Responding to the announcement, Labour highlighted that "targeting lower public sector net debt is an existing government fiscal target" required by the OBR.
The OBR also predicts that by the end of 2027/28 UK debt levels will be 30 per cent higher as a percentage of GDP than when the Conservatives came to power.
Reducing NHS waiting lists
Sunak opened his speech on Wednesday by insisting that they were taking “urgent action” to tackle pressures in the NHS, including increasing bed capacity by 7,000 and providing new funding to help discharge people into social care.
His fourth pledge was to ensure that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.
He said that the NHS wasn’t just a “prized public service” but also his “family’s life calling” as his father was a doctor and his mother worked in a pharmacy.
The now former health secretary Sajid Javid had already put reducing NHS waiting lists at the heart of his agenda when succeeded Matt Hancock in the role in 2021. Laying out his plans to tackle the backlog early last year, Javid pledged that progress could be expected from February 2024, but admitted he believed that waiting lists would rise before they were likely to fall.
Sunak said that the Covid-19 pandemic had “imposed massive new pressures and people are waiting too long for the care they need” and that “we need to recognise that something has to change”.
Improving waiting times in hospital A&Es was the government’s “immediate priority”, he continued, while cutting waiting times was his longer-term focus.
“We all share the same objective when it comes to the NHS to continue providing high quality responsive health care for generations to come. And that's what we're going to deliver,” Sunak said.
Asked following his speech when he expected waiting times to fall, the Prime Minister said he’d “deliberately not put a specific month” as a target for any of his goals as it was not the “responsible” thing to do with “goals that are so complicated,” seemingly neutralising Javid's previously stated 2024 target.
In response to this pledge, the Labour party pointed to analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) which said that waiting lists were already set to fall in the second half of 2023 after peaking in the middle of this year.
New laws to stop small boat crossings
The fifth pledge in Sunak’s speech was to pass new laws to tackle small boat crossings, after a record-breaking 45,656 reached UK shores in 2022.
He said he wanted to make sure that “if you come to this country illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed”.
Asked following his speech how he intended to tackle illegal crossings, the Prime Minister admitted it was “not an easy problem to fix”.
“It's not one that we can fix overnight and it requires lots of different things to be changed,” he said.
Sunak said some progress has been made already, including a new deal with France on Channel patrols and a deal with Albania to help return more migrants.
These measures had already been announced in a Commons statement last year, in which Sunak also pledged to abolish the current asylum claims backlog.
“We want to make sure that that new legislation means that if you come here illegally to our country, you will not be able to stay, you will be detained and swiftly removed back to a safe country or your own home if that's appropriate.”
“That's the type of system that I think makes sense. I think it's probably common sense. I think everyone watching will think that's the type of system we should have.”
The Labour Party said that "successive Tory Prime Ministers have repeatedly promised to stop the boats" but that the legislation they had implemented had "made the problem worse".
"The government has failed to negotiate proper returns agreements and their own impact assessments show the Rwanda plan won’t work.
"They said the Nationality and Borders Act would stop the boats – it didn’t work either. We need real action to stop the criminal gangs at source."
Teaching maths until age 18
Ahead of the speech, it was widely reported that the Prime Minister planned to make the study of maths compulsory in some form up until students turn 18, rather than the current age of 16.
Speaking on Wednesday, he said: “In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, letting our children out into that world without those skills, is letting our children down.”
“We need to go further. I am now making numeracy a central objective of our education system.”
He insisted that this did not mean “compulsory maths for everyone”, but that the government would work with the education sector to ensure students were studying “some form of maths” until they turned 18.
“Just imagine what greater numeracy will unlock for people. The skills to feel confidence with your finances to find the best mortgage deal or savings rate, the ability to do your job better and get paid more and greater self confidence to navigate a changing world,” he continued.
Teachers have said they find the proposal "baffling", when the sector already has a recruitment and retention crisis, and therefore wouldn't have the resource to deliver it.
More police on the streets
Sunak claimed on Wednesday that “all the regeneration in the world won't mean anything unless people feel safe in their communities”, as he pledged to have 20,000 extra police officers on the street by the spring.
This pledge was first set out by the government in 2019 under Boris Johnson, and the Home Office announced in 2021 that it was already halfway and reaching its goal.
He went on to say his priorities were to stop violence against women and girls, reduce reoffending by a small subset of criminals and tackle addiction, as heroin and crack addicts account for almost half of all robberies.
Sunak also said his government would “tirelessly” crack down on antisocial behaviour by “giving police forces, mayors and local authorities the tools they need and giving communities confidence that these crimes will be quickly and visibly punished”.
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