Rishi Sunak has made five key ambitious promises for this year – halving inflation, growing the economy, cutting debt and NHS waiting lists, and stopping migrant boats crossing the Channel.
With the NHS in crisis and the country in the grip of strikes by key workers, the prime minister called for a “reasonable dialogue” with the unions and said ministers “hugely value” public-sector employees such as nurses.
In his first major speech of 2023, setting out his government’s priorities, Mr Sunak promised to deliver “peace of mind” to the public. His promises for the year were:
To halve inflation:
Inflation was running at 10.7 per cent in November, a slight slow-down from the 40-year-high of 11.1 per cent the previous month, according to The Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It has been largely driven by higher energy costs for households and businesses, who have passed some of their cost increases to customers, deepening the cost-of-living crisis. In turn, it has led to unions demanding higher pay rises.
To grow the economy:
Soaraway inflation, ahead of pay rises, has led to a slump in consumer spending, which in turn has slowed economic growth.
The Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility both expect the UK to have a recession. Living standards have been increasingly squeezed in the past 12 months, and there will be more pain to come, with food banks expecting demand to surge even further.
Mr Sunak believes economic growth will lead to higher wages.
To reduce national debt:
UK public-sector borrowing nearly tripled in November thanks to government efforts to shield householders and businesses from runaway energy prices and higher debt interest payments. Net borrowing hit £22bn in November, latest figures show.
The cost of cushioning citizens from the energy price spike came after Mr Sunak used record sums to protect jobs during the Covid lockdowns.
To cut NHS waiting lists:
Senior doctors have warned the health service is facing its worst ever crisis, with waiting lists for treatment hitting a record high of almost 7.21 million in October. Some 2.91 million patients were waiting over 18 weeks.
The 18-week treatment target has not been met since 2016.
A new record high of 45.2 per cent of patients waiting over four hours in hospital A&E was reached in October, and NHS trusts have repeatedly declared critical incidents.
To stop migrant boats:
Small-boat crossings of the Channel hit a new record last year as 45,756 people arrived on the UK coast last year, latest figures show.
The government has announced several policies it claims will deter those making Channel crossings, but the boats used have been getting larger and more overloaded, risking more lives than ever.
Ministers have been slated for failing to set up safer, alternative routes. But Mr Sunak said he would ensure that “if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.
In an echo of Tony Blair’s reference to Princess Diana as “the people’s princess”, Mr Sunak described his promises as “the people’s priorities”.
“They are your government’s priorities. And we will either have achieved them or not,” he said.
“No trick… 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.”
After months of turmoil in the Conservative Party, Mr Sunak came to office promising to deliver stability. But his party is still lagging behind Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party in the polls.