Rishi Sunak vowed on Wednesday to slash inflation by half this year as he set out his vision for Britain in his first big speech since becoming Prime Minister.
Faced by a daunting set of issues including a crisis in the NHS, crippling strikes and a flagging economy, Mr Sunak sought to regain the initiative amid criticism of his ‘submarine’ leadership.
He announced five pledges to give the public “peace of mind” on the economy, health and immigration but failed to provide any real detail on how he intended to end the wave of industrioal action or reduce NHS waiting lists.
On strikes he insisted the Government’s door was always open to dialogue with unions but said the Government would reveal more details on its plans for tackling the strikes in the coming days.
In a speech widely seen as Mr Sunak’s first attempt to set out his stall ahead of a general election next year, the Prime Minister focused heavily on the economy but also emphasised his belief in education and family.
He told an audience in east London: “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 have inflation this year. To ease the cost of living and give people financial security.
“Second, we will grow the economy creating better paying 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.”
With NHS leaders warning that the service is facing its worst winter crisis in years, Mr Sunak pledged that waiting lists, which have grown during the Covid pandemic, will be cut.
He added: “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly.”
And on immigration he said: “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.”
Mr Sunak was asked why the British public should believe in his latest commitments, Mr Sunak replied: “People can trust that when I say I’m going to do something, I am going to do it.
“I’ve been very clear, as I said today, unambiguous. I made five very simple promises, the country’s priorities and my priorities. I want to be held accountable for them...no ambiguity about them. There’s no tricks. People will know whether I’m delivering on these things. And I’m confident that we can. I really am.”
While perhaps the most eye catching, his pledges on halving inflation and growing the UK economy - widely expected to have tipped into recession in the final quarter of last year - drew criticism from Labour for lacking ambtion.
The Bank of England had already predicted inflation would be halved in 2023 while the Office for Budget Responsibility’s most recent forecasts said the benchmark CPI inflation figure wlould fall to 3.8 per cent later this year.
Mr Sunak said: “My expectation is that we will be able to halve the rate of inflation by the end of this year - on our path, by the way, to restoring inflation back to where it belongs, which is the 2 per cent inflation target that we set the Bank of England.
“And at the same time, I’d like the economy to be growing by then as well.”
But Labour said: “Rishi Sunak’s five promises are all things that were happening anyway; are so easy it would be difficult not to achieve them.
“According to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s latest forecasts, CPI inflation in the last quarter of this year is already set to fall to 3.8 per cent, nearly two thirds lower than in the last quarter of 2022.
“The Prime Minister’s pledge is therefore likely to be less ambitious than existing official forecasts.”
On reducing Government debt, Mr Sunak said the Government had “plans in place to make sure that debt does fall in the medium term”.
He added: “The key is sticking to those and making sure that we have the discipline to do so because that’s not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do to secure the future of public services and indeed to combat inflation.”
On NHS waiting lists he said the Government was on track to eliminate waits of one and half years by April of this year with waits of one year gone by next Spring.
And on eradicating small boat crossings from France he said he was “working to introduce legislation as soon as practically possible”.
He added: “In all of these things I’ve deliberately not put a specific month on each of them because I don’t think that’s responsible or or the right thing to do with with goals that are so complicated, where many of the forces that will impact our ability to hit them are out of my control.
“But what I am being very clear about what I am prioritising and what I am keen to deliver for the country in terms that I think are easy to understand. And I fully expect the country to hold me and the government to account.”
During the Prime Minister’s speech, he also touched on the need to reduce crime and crack down on “career criminals”.
He said: “But all the regeneration in the world won’t mean anything unless people feel safe in their communities.
“So by this spring, we will have an extra 20,000 police officers patrolling the streets, answering the call for help and catching criminals.
“We’ve got to stop violence against women and girls. And let’s be frank — that means men taking responsibility for creating a culture and society where women are safe in their communities and at home.
“We’ve got to reduce reoffending because a small number of career criminals account for a disproportionate amounts of crime.
“And we’ve got to beat addiction. Because heroin and crack addicts account for almost half of all robberies.”