LAST week the Prime Minister announced five new promises to halve inflation, grow the economy, help with the cost-of-living, cut NHS waiting lists, and tackle illegal migration.
These commitments demonstrate the right ambition, but it remains unclear what tools the Prime Minister will use in order to fulfil them.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that inflation will fall this year. I hope they are right, and clearly so does the Prime Minister. However, the ability to halve inflation will depend largely on global forces and the Bank of England. It is therefore not entirely in the hands of the government. The Bank of England is expecting inflation to fall sharply from the middle of this year, as energy prices won’t continue to rise so quickly, and supply chain constraints begin to ease. We can find some comfort in their optimism.
By putting the country on a stable financial footing, we can then kick start our economy and drive growth. We can hope that the measures the Chancellor proposed in November will deliver, and that the Spring Statement will provide us with some more concrete solutions as to how growth will be achieved. It is unusual to have such low levels of unemployment during a period of recession, and this will surely make a difference in returning the country to growth by the year end.
The cost-of-living crisis is still largely driven by energy prices. This is a challenge for individuals and businesses alike. The business support announced last year was only for six months. This year the government will announce further support for businesses with all UK businesses expected to be given a limited discount on electricity and gas, and energy intensive industries handed additional support. The new package will cost about £35 billion, and the subsidies are expected to last for one year. The hospitality industry had hoped for special help. This will be a blow to the sector – but let’s see what is actually announced.
Tackling illegal migration is a must, and the Prime Minister committed to introducing new laws to stop small boats crossings. Over 40,000 people illegally crossed the channel in small boats last year. New immigration rules have been introduced effective this year which include a number of new measures to both prevent arrivals and speed deportation where entry is illegal. A new border system will make it much harder to enter illegally using biometrics such as facial recognition and rigorous background checks. New detention centres are being established and the deportation process to safe third countries speeded up.
Probably the biggest promise the Prime Minister made was to cut NHS waiting lists to ensure people get the care they need more quickly. Currently, people struggle to get themselves a GP appointment, we see on our TVs hospital corridors filled with patients waiting for beds, and in our area new patients cannot even join NHS dental practices.
The challenge is to find an immediate solution putting in place temporary measures to get the NHS back on track – and then to tackle the long-term reform of the NHS which is long overdue. The health secretary Steve Barclay has asked the NHS to innovate – but how?
So, for short term fixes, how about creating Nightingale Nursing Care Homes? We know how to do this and we could kick start recruiting nurses specifically for such homes by offering a package to those recently retired to come back but not into mainstream secondary care, but into these homes. Many do not want to return to the pressure of a District General Hospital – but this option might be attractive provided pay and pension arrangements work.
There is no doubt that the Prime Minister has identified the key problems facing Britain, and the ambitions he has set out are the right ones. Now the government must deliver.