Blog: A masterclass in smoke and mirrors

The chancellor’s budget statement is not what we expect from politicians who claim that theirs is the real party of public services

Christina McAnea presenting UNISON’s petition to the Treasury, demanding Chancellor Rishi Sunak rebuild public services. © Jess Hurd

For days we’ve been bombarded with big pre-budget announcements from the Treasury on ending the pay freeze and investing in the NHS. And today we heard from Chancellor Rishi Sunak directly about a new age of optimism, of rising wages, investment in public services and levelling up.

It’s designed to dazzle and gloss over the really important details, such as whether these commitments will be backed by the cash needed to turn a promise into the pay rises our members deserve, or whether the new investment in public services will make up the ground lost over the more than 10 years of austerity.

And it’s when we get into the detail of the spending announcement that we see Rishi Sunak’s claim that the Conservatives are the real party of public services for what it really is – a masterclass in smoke and mirrors.

  • He promised 20,000 new police officers, but neglected to mention the fact that we’ve lost more than 40,000 police staff and officers since 2010
  • He promised 50,000 new nurses at a time when there are 94,000 vacancies in the NHS and 105,000 in social care
  • He said that the pay freeze was over, and that the public services would see a return to ‘fair and affordable pay rises’, the day after business minister Paul Scully let slip that the government could not guarantee that any increases next year would be higher than the rate of inflation. The chancellor himself said today that inflation on the CPI measure would be 4% next year

UNISON called on the chancellor to rebuild our public services in his spending review. Central to that rebuilding are the people who run each service. To have enough workers, on enough pay, the chancellor must deliver sustainable long-term investment to government departments, devolved nations and local authorities.

UNISON and other unions met with the chancellor and provided a written submission to make our members’ case. This week I also delivered a petition on behalf of our 1.3 million members to the Treasury.

The austerity decade laid waste to local government and further education. It resulted in far lower increases in NHS investment than we saw under the last Labour government and it needs to be higher to provide people with the best care available.

Today we saw that the government knows what it should do, but that, for ideological reasons, it can only go so far. This is not what we expect from politicians who claim that theirs is the real party of public services.