Rishi Sunak unveils five 'promises' to UK - but they're blasted as 'empty words'

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Rishi Sunak unveils five
Rishi Sunak unveils five 'promises' to UK - but they're blasted as 'empty words'

Rishi Sunak has unveiled five ‘promises’ to the British people as part of a New Year bid to reboot the catastrophe-hit government.

With the NHS in meltdown and strikes crippling public infrastructure, the millionaire PM said his speech would “deliver peace of mind” adding: “This government will always reflect the people’s priorities”.

Yet his pledges were branded "empty words" as he admitted they are rehashed, only two are for this year - and he refused to say he would quit if he fails.

He admitted: “I’ve deliberately not put a specific month on each of them.

"Because I don’t think that’s responsible or the right thing to do with goals that are so complicated, where many of the forces that will impact our ability to hit them are out of my control.”

Out of touch Rishi Sunak doesn't regularly read papers or online news sites rridqziqtqitinvOut of touch Rishi Sunak doesn't regularly read papers or online news sites
Rishi Sunak unveils five 'promises' to UK - but they're blasted as 'empty words'Rishi Sunak giving his big speech today (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

His promises include an eyebrow-raising pledge to “halve inflation this year” - despite repeatedly claiming inflation is due to war in Ukraine and global tension, not his government.

He also promised “NHS waiting lists will fall”, as ambulances wait hours outside A&E. And he claimed there was a "lot of misinformation" out there about strikes, with more information on the government's plan - which could include minimum service levels - "in the coming days".

But a lot of it is vague. Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute said of Rishi Sunak's speech: “Voters want proper policies, not prosaic platitudes."

Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association said: "We cannot continue to wait for the Government and Prime Minister to deliver empty words, misguided promises of future prosperity when it’s clear that so many people are suffering today.”

Royal College of Nursing General Secretary Pat Cullen said: "The Prime Minister’s language appeared detached from the reality of what is happening and why... it focused on false promise and hollow boasts when practical and urgent measures are required."

Chris Thomas of the IPPR think tank said: "There was nothing in his speech to suggest he's grasped the full gravity of the NHS's steady collapse."

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “If Rishi Sunak is serious when he says he values public sector workers, then he would give our members an above-inflation pay rise... He knows how to get hold of me. I’m waiting for his call."

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “He is asleep at the wheel while patients are treated in hospital corridors and the health service is stretched to breaking point."

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson told Sky News: "It was completely out of touch from the Prime Minister”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner added: “For weeks this speech was hyped up as his big vision - now he’s delivered it, the country is entitled to ask: is that it?”

All the scandals and sackings from Rishi Sunak's first 100 days in No10All the scandals and sackings from Rishi Sunak's first 100 days in No10
Rishi Sunak unveils five 'promises' to UK - but they're blasted as 'empty words'Rishi Sunak promised 'no tricks, no ambiguity' - but his plans are pretty damn ambiguous (PA)

The speech was a bid to take on critics - including in the Tory party - who say they don’t know what Rishi Sunak stands for.

He had privately told MPs he was focusing on small boats, the economy and the NHS - and this takes that message a bit further. It goes on top of his “ambition” to ensure all children learn maths until age 18, which may only be achieved in the next Parliament.

He also veered off into saying whatever your family looks like it doesn't matter, "as long as the common bond is love". He vowed to give families what they need - despite reportedly rowing back on Liz Truss's plans to improve childcare.

He said: “No tricks… no ambiguity… we’re either delivering for you or we’re not. We will rebuild trust in politics through action, or not at all. So, I ask you to judge us on the effort we put in and the results we achieve.”

But despite his words there are plenty of holes in the plan - and plenty of ambiguous loopholes he could jump through.

Here’s a snap analysis.

Promise 1: ‘We will halve inflation this year’

“We will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security,” the PM said.

There are two very notable things about this.

First, inflation was already expected to drop without Rishi Sunak actually doing anything.

The Office for Budget Responsibility said in November that CPI was due to average 9.1% over 2022 and 7.4% over 2023.

If you’re talking about the financial year (April to April), then the drop will be sharper. And Labour point out if you look at it quarterly, it's due to be 3.8% in the last three months of 2023, down from 11.1% in the last three of 2022.

Secondly, this is Rishi Sunak suddenly taking personal responsibility for the inflation crisis. It’s a big change after he spent months insisting global factors like the war in Ukraine are to blame for skyrocketing prices.

He could be accused of avoiding blame for inflation when it goes up, but trying to glory-hunt when it goes down.

It’s also a huge political gamble, because if inflation doesn’t fall by as much as he hopes, his critics will say he’s directly responsible.

Rishi Sunak unveils five 'promises' to UK - but they're blasted as 'empty words'Ambulance staff push a stretcher outside the Royal London hospital in east London yesterday (AFP via Getty Images)

Promise 2: ‘We will grow the economy’

“We will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country,” the Prime Minister said.

This is an echo of Liz Truss’s push for “growth” - but with none of the unfunded tax cuts she was using to achieve it. Instead, he said “as soon as we can, the government will reduce the burden of taxation on working people” - with no date.

It’s also an echo of Boris Johnson’s attempts to “level up” jobs and opportunities in different parts of the UK. He said: "The change we need is to do away with the idea that is it inevitable that some communities and places can never and will never get better."

But it’s vague. Unlike Liz Truss’s 2.5%, Rishi Sunak doesn’t say how much he’ll ‘grow the economy’ - he only said he wanted it growing by the end of the year.

GDP was already expected to fall in 1.4% in 2023 and rise 1.3% in 2024. That suggests it'll already be "growing" again by next Christmas.

He also doesn’t say how much ‘better-paid’ jobs will be. Wages are going up by 6.9% in the private sector and 2.7% in the public sector but that’s a real-terms cut. He’s refusing to give bigger wage rises to nurses.

Promise 3: ‘National debt falling’

“We will make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services,” the PM said.

But this is super vague - they key question will be when it starts falling. And under questioning Rishi Sunak admitted it was only for "the medium term", not this year.

Under his own Autumn Statement, public sector net debt is forecast to keep rising until the mid-2020s, from 90% of GDP this year to 96% in 2023/24 and 97.6% in 2026/27.

It would only start falling after that. The national debt is already far higher than it was in the wake of the 2008 crash. There's no sign the PM is speeding up efforts to bring it down.

Rishi Sunak unveils five 'promises' to UK - but they're blasted as 'empty words'The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast of the national debt

Promise 4: ‘NHS waiting lists will fall’

"People are understandably anxious when they see ambulances queuing outside hospitals," the PM said.

He added: “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly."

But how much will they fall? And when? And how?

Under questioning, the PM just referred to existing targets for England's elective care. Those are to eliminate waits of over 18 months by April 2023, of over 65 weeks by March 2024, and of a year by March 2025.

Rishi Sunak said "by next spring I think we will have eliminated those waiting a year." But it's thought he wasn't trying to announce a new target. He may have just got his Springs mixed up.

Rishi Sunak unveils five 'promises' to UK - but they're blasted as 'empty words'The NHS waiting list over time, according to the House of Commons Library

The waiting list for hospital treatment was on a steady increase over the last decade, and skyrocketed since the Covid pandemic.

It rose to a record of 7 million in September 2022. The 18-week treatment target has not been met since 2016. Yet No10 on Tuesday insisted the NHS has the funds it needs.

Rishi Sunak also promised an NHS where "patients are in control" with private sector help - we should be "comfortable with the NHS using more independent capacity, if that's what it takes to get patients quicker and better care".

The PM said that would "allow them to make more informed choices and hold services to account".

This blue sky vision could be pretty jarring for the Nan, 92, who said she "wanted to die" during a 33-hour corridor wait.

Promise 5: ‘We will pass new laws to stop small boats’

“We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed,” the PM said.

Firstly, this is a continuation of the PM’s plans that he has already announced.

Secondly, the wording is careful - he does not say that he’s going to stop all the small boats crossing the Channel. Because that, many argue, is not possible.

And thirdly, he didn't even promise his limited pledge of new laws will be completed this year. He said it'd happen “as soon as practically possible” but added “Parliament decides how long it takes to pass that legislation”.

More than 45,000 people are believed to have crossed the Channel in small boats in 2022, a rise of more than 17,000 on 2021.

Dan Bloom

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