Rishi Sunak: I'll fire up London with plan to ease housing crisis and boost West End

Rishi Sunak: I'll fire up London with plan to ease housing crisis and boost West End

Listen here on your chosen podcast platform.

Interest rate cuts are “on their way,” Rishi Sunak said as he laid out his London plan to ease the housing crisis, revive the ailing hospitality sector and get more civil servants back into Whitehall.

As the clock ticks towards the July 4 polling day, the Prime Minister set out his stall on why Londoners should vote Conservative rather than back Labour, switch to Reform, or support the Liberal Democrats or Greens.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Standard, the Prime Minister:

* Raised hopes that mortgate rates could soon start to fall, after inflation hit the Bank of England’s two per cent target last week, which would ease financial pressure on many households.

* Vowed to take the axe to “burdens, regulations and red tape” strangling restaurants, bars, pubs and theatres particularly in London, as they try to survive with the cost-of-living crisis still biting.

* Stressed that civil servants needed to be back in Whitehall to “deliver” for Britain, highlighting also the benefits particularly for younger staff.

* Showed no sign of seeking to ease the confrontational stand-off between the Government and Sadiq Khan on housing and crime.

* Stuck to his line on the election date betting scandal engulfing the Tories, saying anyone in the party who put on illegal wagers would be “booted out” and should face the “full consequences of the law”.

* Amid concerns over businesses listing in New York rather than London, he stressed the City had to be an “open, technologically advanced financial services sector that is globally competitive”.

* Said he had “faith” that Harry Kane’s team could turn things around after their faltering start at Euro 2024.

Mr Sunak outlined his vision for London as the Tories are fighting to defend some 20 seats in the capital, with polls suggesting they could end up with as few as four.

The Standard has compiled an interactive map of all constituencies across the city, with profiles listing their candidates, boundary changes, and viewpoints on who may win.

London is yet to return to firing on all cylinders after the Covid pandemic, with many workers coming into the office for only a few days a week.

Ministers believe too many civil servants are still not spending enough time in Whitehall.

“The benefits you get from seeing people face-to-face, the mentoring that you get, those connections you form, you can’t replicate over zoom or teams,” said Mr Sunak.

“So first and foremost it’s good for young people in particular to be in the office and more broadly we have got a programme that makes sure people are back in offices.

“That is important so people can deliver for the country.”

Pubs, bars, theatres and restaurants are also “essential for driving the London economy,” the Prime Minister stressed.

But many are struggling with staff shortages, debts built up during the pandemic and fewer customers.

Monday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Monday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)

“The problem is worse in London than it is everywhere else,” said the PM.

“Venues are closing at a faster rate than the rest of the country.”

So, the Tories are pledging a major review of licensing laws, planning rules and other “red tape” that they say are unnecessarily holding back the night-time economy.

But many hospitality sector chiefs say they are just not able to find enough workers after the Brexit-fuelled fall in the number of EU citizens coming to work in Britain.

Mr Sunak stuck to the policy of seeking to train British workers to fill these jobs, even though, this is clearly not happening fast enough.

“I do think British people should have the opportunity to get into work and build a bright future for themselves and we are piloting a special employment programme designed to fill vacancies in the hospitality sector,” he said.

“The overall levels of immigration in our country are too high and we do need to bring them down, that is putting pressure on public services,” he added.

Amid concerns by some Tories, that the party’s election campaign is too targeted at the so-called “Red Wall” and not sufficiently at the “Blue Wall” including London’s commuter belt, the premier said: “Everyone, everywhere wants a Government that has got a clear plan to grow the economy, cut their taxes and build a more secure future for themselves and their families.

“Labour’s plans to land people with a tax bill worth £2,000, and not being honest about which taxes (they are going) to raise, isn’t right.

“We have got a plan, it’s working, people care about economic stablility, inflation is back to target, the economy is growing, interest rate cuts as we can see are now on their way, mortgage rate cuts.

“Why would you put all that progress at risk?”

But the Tories’ claim that a Labour government would hit households with a £2,000 tax bill has been undermined by the Treasury, independent fact checkers and the UK statistics watchdog, with the latter rapping ministers for not making clear that this figure is over four years not one.

Pressed whether if his party had made this clear its tax attack would have got more cut-through and less blowback, Mr Sunak said: “No, because I think that is the cost that people need to know.”

The tax hit on London and the South East has already topped £100 billion a year, and with more than half of inheritance tax paid in England coming from estates in these two regions.

Labour has ruled out raising income tax, VAT and National Insurance but not a string of other levies.

Mr Sunak claimed: “Labour have made their plans clear, if you have got savings then you are facing a tax rise.”

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has admitted that the nation’s tax bill will rise, being pushed up by the freeze on income tax thresholds, whoever wins the election, though, he argues it will go up more under Labour.

On Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner’s workplace reforms, including more restrictions on zero hour contracts, the Prime Minister argued they would “cost jobs and damage our economic recovery”.

On London’s homes’ crisis, the Tories say it can be eased by raising the housing density levels in inner London to those of European cities like Paris and Barcelona, and by pressing on with regenerating major sites including Euston, Old Oak Common and Thamesmead.

As for whether the Tories, if they win again on July 4, could have a more constructive relationship with the London Mayor on housing, the PM responds: “It’s important that Sadiq Khan is held to account for his record.

“He has failed to hit his own housing targets.”

On crime, Mr Sunak stressed action to toughen knife laws, including a ban on Zombie-style knives and machetes.

In another swipe at the Mayor, he added: “Sadiq Khan has failed Londoners and he’s the one that has let knife crime rise while we are making more progress on tackling knife crime across the rest of the country.”

But with just ten days to go to polling day, and with surveys showing the Tories could end up with as few as four MPs in London, how will Mr Sunak win over Londoners?

“It’s just talking to people consistently about the choice because it’s a very clear choice,” he says seeking to drum home Tory and Labour contrasting policies, particularly on....tax, tax and tax.

Londoners can find details of the candidates from the five main parties in the 75 constituencies across the capital in this Evening Standard database.