Thursday, 28th November 2019 15:03 - by Shant
Having started the week with a somewhat fantastical view of the Labour manifesto, it only seems fair to offer some coverage over the plans laid out by the Conservatives, especially in light of the fact that they remain ahead in the polls to reclaim government next month. Up until the start of the week, Boris Johnson had been under some criticism for coming short - or light - on domestic policy, having made the delivery of Brexit his number one campaign promise. Indeed, this still comes top of the list and will likely remain one of the key determinants in how people vote, come the 12th of December. Mr Johnson has pledged that the UK will leave the EU in January, though in the event of a hung parliament - which remains a big risk - one will have to assume there remains some uncertainty over this, given the events of the last 2 and a half years. In the event of majority rule, the would-be PM (again) would aim to negotiate a trade deal with the EU next year, sticking the transition period deadline of December 2020. This is ambitious, to say the least, and one only has to look at the time taken for the EU to agree to a free trade agreement with Canada - 7 years no less!
Loosely tied to the Brexit issue, the Tory party is keen to adopt an Australian style points system on immigration, arguing that this will attract the 'brightest and the best' to the country. However, with public services crying out for lower pay grade labour, this policy will require fine-tuning at the very least.
Closer to home, the pledge to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 has been making the headlines, not least of all due to the heavy focus on the NHS, but also from the 'drainage' seen in recent years. The Tories hope to train more nurses with the provision of grants up to £8000 a year, though plans also include the recruitment from foreign shores as well as placing a stronger emphasis on retention.
There is little in the way of income tax incentives on offer however, as the party looks to build on its performance of recent years by maintaining a tight rein on the public purse. Having pushed through a number of years of austerity, they would have been hard pushed to convince the electorate of credible tax giveaways, rather to maintain the status quo as the economy seems to be faring well, especially in the labour market and under a cloud of Brexit uncertainty to boot. However, they are proposing to raise the National Insurance threshold to £9,500, which means workers will be paying £100 or so less a year.
On pensions, they propose keeping the triple lock on increases, rising by the highest of inflation, national earnings growth or 2.5% a year. After the misfortunes of the 2017 vote when Theresa May planned to scrap the 2.5% guarantee, Boris Johnson is taking no chances with the older vote this time around. A review of the current restrictions to pension contributions will also be offered.
Adult social care is and has been for some time, a key issue which has also been addressed in the manifesto, though only on a proposed guide basis, with the Tories open to a cross-party consensus on how to go forward. Funding is and has been stretched in this area, though plans by the Conservative party are short of commitment here, and it is fair to say that voters will be underwhelmed by comparative plans - especially those proposed by Labour.
Spending on energy efficiency also falls short of that offered by the opposition as the Tories are looking to spend $2,860 per household on improving insulation. In contrast, Labour has offered to spend up to £9,300 per household, at a total cost of £250bln. Tory claims that their spending plans could save as much as £750 a year have been debunked by energy experts, who say the savings will be closer to £50 a year. The Tories are also well behind its rivals on cutting emissions on a broader scale, with its goal to reach zero emissions by 2050. The LibDems are looking at an end date of 2045, but Labour is aiming for the 2030s, while the Greens are insisting on a 10-year plan, taking us out to 2030.
Other notable inclusions in the manifesto include the continued rollout of Universal Credit, which should come as no surprise, while tuition fees will be frozen at £9,250 as they are now, with reviews promised over funding as well as interest rates on student loans. So all in all, it is a pretty frugal manifesto that the Tories are offering, and as stated at the outset, looks to be one which is skewed towards the bigger issue of finalising the EU exit. While opposition parties have been keen to draw focus away from what has been a long-drawn-out process that is Brexit, the Tories seem to be keeping their focus on an issue which may well bite the Labour party hard come the 12th of December. Labour has gone all out to try and deflect from this, but the Tories are also banking on the relative strength of the economy based on fiscal restraint. Next month will tell all.
The Writer's views are their own, not a representation of London South East's. No advice is inferred or given. If you require financial advice, please seek an Independent Financial Adviser.