Sunak Vows $8.1 Billion U.K. Budget Boost for Health Service
(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is set to announce a 5.9 billion-pound ($8.1 billion) injection of funds into the National Health Service at this week’s budget, part of the U.K. government’s effort to clear backlogs caused by the pandemic.
The boost, announced late Sunday by the Treasury, is one of the biggest pledges unveiled so far in advance of the budget statement due Wednesday. It’s one of a few major giveaways likely in the plan where Sunak is set to restore rigor to public finances after building up a record debt burden.
His task, which he has called a “sacred” duty, is complicated by a stuttering economic recovery, faster inflation and a surge in virus cases. Those factors are adding to stress on the health service.
Sunak pledged earlier Sunday to continue to plow more money into public services even though the overall package is likely to restrained compared to the largess the Treasury offered to protect the economy from the pandemic.
Part of that investment will be designed to help the health service, the Treasury said. The funding will help address a building waiting list of non-emergency tests by setting up more diagnostic centers, as well as going toward efforts to modernize digital technology. The Times reported Sunak will also promise 1 billion pounds to speed up court cases delayed by the pandemic.
Other measures announced by the Treasury on Sunday include:
- A 2.6 billion-pound boost for education for children with special needs over the next three years
- Almost 2 billion pounds of spending to turn brownfield land into hundreds of thousands of new homes in England
- 150 million pounds in funding for regional “angel investors”
- A post-Brexit overhaul of the shipping industry tax system, which means “ships that fly the Union Jack and who help the U.K. reach net-zero will both be more likely to be accepted if applying to the U.K.’s tonnage tax regime”
Sunak is planning to announce a hike in the U.K.’s minimum wage and remove a freeze on some public sector pay rises, the Sun newspaper reported.
The “budget is about the future,” Sunak told Sky in one of three interviews on Sunday. “It’s about building that stronger recovery for our country.”
“It actually means very strong continued investment in public services. It means driving our future economic growth by investing in infrastructure, innovation and skills. It means giving businesses confidence through all the things we’re going to do to support them, and lastly it means supporting working families as we have done through the last year.”
There isn’t a “magic wand” the government can use to bring down inflation, which has mainly been pushed higher by global factors, Sunak said, citing high energy prices and the strain on supply chains caused by economies re-opening after the pandemic. He said he also alive to risks price gains -- and Bank of England rate rises -- can pose to the public finances.
“The risk of inflation and interest rates is one that we can see already today, and there might be other things that we don’t know about,” Sunak told Times Radio on Sunday. “I have to think about what might happen to us in the future, and build into our plans some resilience to cope with that uncertainty or the potential adverse shocks that come our way.”
In an article for the Sun newspaper this weekend, Sunak promised to support families feeling the pinch from rising energy and food costs.
“I want you to know, we will continue to do whatever it takes, we will continue to have your backs -- just like we did during the pandemic,” he wrote.
U.K. Budget and Spending Review
Measures announced before this week’s Budget and Spending Review include:
- 6.9 billion pounds of funding for local transport, not all of which is new money
- 5 billion pounds of spending over three years to increase health-related research and development
- 3 billion pounds of investment to improve skills in those age 16 and over
- The extension of the Recovery Loan Scheme for a six months until June 30, and 312 million pounds of funding for the British Business Bank’s Start-Up Loans program
- 1.4 billion pounds for the Global Britain Investment Fund, which will provide grants to encourage international companies to invest in the U.K. That includes 354 million pounds for life sciences and more than 800 million pounds for electric vehicle production and supply chains
- 850 million pounds for local museums, galleries and cultural hotspots
- 703 million pounds of funding to improve border security, including on coastal patrol ships
- 700 million pounds for local sports clubs
- 560 million pounds to improve adult maths education
- 500 million pounds to support families, including 80 million pounds to fund a network of “family hubs” to support young families
- 435 million pounds of funding to tackle crime, including improving street lighting and CCTV
- 5 million pounds of support for veterans
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