Is Rishi Sunak delivering on his five pledges?

UK Prime Minister under pressure to deliver results ahead of next general election in Britain

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference following the launch of new legislation on migrant channel crossings. Getty Images
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Rishi Sunak set out five key pledges for his premiership in a speech last year, promising to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut National Health Service waiting times and stop small boat crossings in the Channel.

With his party flagging in the opinion polls, pressure is growing on the Prime Minister to deliver substantial results ahead of a potential general election.

As Mr Sunak clocks up a year as Prime Minister, The National takes a look at how he has done on delivering on his promises.

Halve inflation

The Prime Minister is probably on course to meet his pledge to halve inflation this year, which currently stands at 6.7 per cent

Figures published in November are expected to show a significant fall, thanks to a reduction in the energy price cap.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said the current figure was “not far off what we were expecting” and pointed to the small decline in core inflation as “encouraging”.

Mr Sunak needs inflation to fall to 5.3 per cent to meet his target, and while this is not guaranteed, it appears well within reach in the remaining months of the year.

“Tackling inflation remains my number one priority as Prime Minister,” Mr Sunak wrote on social media earlier this month.

“We’ve made great progress, but I know there is still a way to go”.

Grow the economy

Mr Sunak also appears on course to meet this pledge, although growth has been weak.

According to the Office for National Statistics’ latest figures, gross domestic product has grown by about 0.5 per cent over the past year, and most forecasts indicate growth for the whole of 2023 to be around that figure.

The Prime Minister is therefore technically likely to be able to claim success on this pledge, even if growth remains slow compared with many other G7 nations.

“People doubted the strength of the UK economy – today’s data proves them wrong,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter, last month in response to ONS figures showing that the economy had grown 0.2 per cent in April to June.

Reduce debt

Provisional figures for August, the latest available, suggest the total national debt stands at 97.8 per cent, higher than it was in both September 2022 and March 2023.

But the figure is still lower than it was at the end of 2022, when total net debt was 99.5 per cent of GDP.

However, there is a further complication in that the UK government usually uses a different figure – public sector net debt excluding the Bank of England.

Once this figure is used, total debt is higher than it was at the end of 2022, rising slightly from 88 per cent of GDP to 89.3 per cent.

Mr Sunak therefore seems unlikely to be able to claim a straightforward victory on this target, although some measures may allow him to do so.

Earlier this month, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said that the UK had spent twice as much on interest this year compared with last year, which he said was “unsustainable”.

Cut NHS waiting times

On current measures, it appears as if the Prime Minister will fail to meet this target.

The total number of people waiting for NHS treatment reached 7.75 million in August, a record figure and about 10 per cent higher than a year ago.

But Mr Sunak may still be able to claim some success as the number of people waiting for very long periods has declined over the past year.

The number waiting more than two years for treatment has fallen by 90 per cent since August 2022, while waiting lists of more than 18 months and 15 months have reduced over the same period.

During his Tory Party conference speech, Mr Sunak said that his government had made “reasonable” pay offers to NHS staff and urged doctors and nurses to return to work to reduce waiting times.

Rishi Sunak's first year as Prime Minister – in pictures

Stop the boats

Channel crossings have declined since the introduction of the Illegal Migration Act in July.

So far, about 26,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel in small boats this year, compared to 37,000 in the same period last year.

There is some debate over to whether this is down to new legislation, better enforcement or simply worse weather, but whatever the cause, there is still a long way to go before Mr Sunak can claim victory.

“Small boat crossings are for the first time since the phenomenon began down 20 per cent this year,” the Prime Minister told the Tory Party conference.

“We are by no means where we want to be but don’t let anyone tell you we aren’t making progress – we are and we will get there.”

Updated: October 25, 2023, 1:36 PM