Rishi Sunak vowed to work ‘night and day’ to restore ‘optimism, hope and pride in Britain’ today in his first big speech as PM.
Trying to get on the front foot in 2023 amid a crippling wave of strikes, Mr Sunak acknowledged the massive pressures facing hospitals saying he was taking ‘urgent action’ to protect services.
He also slammed ‘misinformation’ from unions over strikes, and said the government will shortly lay out its next move.
But Mr Sunak said he hoped he was already starting to earn people’s ‘trust’, and spelled out five promises to judge him against this year – including that inflation will be halved to tackle the cost of living, and the Channel migrant crisis will be eased.
He also committed to grow the economy, reduce debt and cut NHS waiting lists.
‘These five promises are the people’s priorities,’ he said. ‘We will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats.’
In a nod to unrest on his own blue benches, Mr Sunak said that ‘as soon as we can’ the government would ‘reduce the burden of taxation on working people’ – without making any concrete pledge.
He announced his ‘personal’ ambition for everyone to study maths until at least the age of 18, saying that improving education was as close as it gets to a ‘silver bullet’ in policy terms.
The intervention came after the premier was given a glimmer of hope in a new poll. Although Labour had an eye-watering 20-point lead overall, the Redfield & Wilton research found that Mr Sunak has leapfrogged Keir Starmer as the public’s preferred PM.
The Tory leader was the choice of 38 per cent, compared to 36 per cent for Sir Keir – in an apparent sign that he is stabilising the government following the disastrous Liz Truss era.
However, the Conservative infighting that blighted 2022 has already resurfaced, with Ms Truss’s allies making clear their anger that Mr Sunak has ditched her proposals for a radical childcare overhaul.
Rishi Sunak vowed to work ‘night and day’ to restore ‘optimism, hope and pride in Britain’ today in his first big speech as PM
Downing Street tweeted out the five promises Mr Sunak asked to be judged on today
The premier has been given a glimmer of hope in a new poll. Although Labour has an eye-watering 20-point lead overall, the Redfield & Wilton research found that Mr Sunak has leapfrogged Keir Starmer as the public’s preferred PM
In his speech, Mr Sunak said: ‘I want to make five promises to you today. Five pledges to deliver peace of mind. Five foundations, on which to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.
‘First, we will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security. Second, we will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country. Third, we will make sure our national debt is falling so that we can secure the future of public services.
‘Fourth, NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly. Fifth, 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.
‘So, five promises – we will: Halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists, and stop the boats.
‘Those are the people’s priorities. They are your Government’s priorities. And we will either have achieved them or not.
‘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.’
Mr Sunak signalled a renewed focus on tackling the delayed discharges clogging up hospital beds.
He is bringing forward an ‘urgent care recovery plan’ later this month, coupled with a recovery plan for primary care to improve access to GPs.
But the PM warned the country cannot afford the double-digit pay rises demanded by militant union bosses, and also confirm plans for ‘tough’ measures to limit strike disruption.
The strategy for building a better Britain includes plans to make maths compulsory to the age of 18 in order to boost skills and productivity.
He will say the UK is an outlier and it is time to ‘reimagine our approach to numeracy’ – and warn that the current approach to maths is ‘letting our children down’.
He is expected to say: ‘This is personal for me. Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive.
‘And it’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education.
‘Thanks to the reforms we’ve introduced since 2010, and the hard work of so many excellent teachers, we’ve made incredible progress.
‘With the right plan – the right commitment to excellence – I see no reason why we cannot rival the best education systems in the world’.
Mr Sunak will concede that introducing maths to 18 will take longer than the two years remaining in this Parliament.
He will put emphasis on the importance of numeracy, stressing ‘our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills’.
The Prime Minister will say: ‘One of the biggest changes in mindset we need in education today is to reimagine our approach to numeracy.
‘Right now, just half of all 16 to 19-year-olds study any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before.
‘And letting our children out into the world without those skills, is letting our children down’.
The Government does not apparently envisage making maths A-level compulsory for all 16-year-olds and further detail will be set out in due course.
Ministers are instead exploring existing routes, such as the Core Maths qualifications and T-Levels, as well as more innovative options.
Whitehall sources said the NHS crisis has risen to the top of Mr Sunak’s domestic agenda in recent weeks and he is now involved in intensive daily meetings to ‘get under the bonnet’ of the NHS.
‘It is something he will be very focused on this month, and probably next month as well,’ a source said.
The speech comes against a bleak backdrop of problems in the NHS following the pandemic. A string of hospital trusts and ambulance services have recently declared critical incidents as they struggle to deal with the combination of record backlogs and surging flu and Covid cases.
Some health chiefs have claimed delays are leading to 500 excess deaths a week.
Ambulances wait outside Portsmouth Hospital due to shortages of rooms as patients wait inside the vehicles for hours
Downing Street said ministers had been ‘upfront’ with the public that the NHS would face an ‘extremely challenging winter’ following the pandemic.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said the PM was ‘confident’ that the health service had the funding it needed, but acknowledged that some people would face long delays for treatment.
‘We expected to see backlogs and waiting times go up… that is what we are seeing play out,’ said the spokesman.
‘We are confident we are providing the NHS with the funding it needs to deal with these issues,’ he added. Asked if the NHS is in crisis, he said it was ‘an unprecedented challenge’.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the Government is focused on ‘getting the people out of the hospital who don’t need to be there’ in order to ‘speed up the ambulance handover delays’.
Mr Sunak’s plans will involve a big focus on improving social care to make it easier to discharge elderly patients