WATCH: A guide to the manifestos in the UK general election

By on 26/06/2024 | Updated on 26/06/2024
A photo of a polling booth in the New Forest for the UK vote change referendum and local government election. Photo: Microchip08 reproduced under Creative Commons
Photo: Microchip08 reproduced under Creative Commons

With a week to go until voters go to the polls in the United Kingdom, a Global Government Forum webinar looked at the major pledges and manifestos that have been put forward by Labour and the Conservatives – the two parties vying to form the next government – across key policy areas:

  • The economy
  • Government management and workforce
  • Sustainability
  • Digital and data
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Public services; and
  • Procurement

The parties’ main pitches

The timing of the election might have come sooner than expected, but the parties’ main pitches for the electorate had been developed for some time.

In his pitch to voters, Conservative leader and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak said that the government had restored the UK’s economic stability after Covid and the outbreak of war in Ukraine – and, though it goes unmentioned, Liz Truss’s premiership.

“Inflation is down, real wages are up, growth has returned – and we are cutting taxes to give working people financial security,” he said announcing the election. “We must stick to this plan and take bold action to secure the future of our nation and society.”

Labour, however, has put change at the forefront of its message to voters. Party leader Keir Starmer says that the election is about change, and a “chance to stop the endless Conservative chaos that has directly harmed the finances of every family in Britain”.

He said that the country faces a number of challenges over the next decade. “[W]e’ll face challenges to our energy and national security from foreign conflicts; to our border from uncontrolled and illegal migration; to our economy from global shocks and to our society from those seeking to divide and disempower communities.

“Dealing with these challenges requires a clear plan and bold action. We have that plan and the courage to take the bold steps necessary to build a secure future for you and your family.”

The party’s five missions are its response to this:

  • Kickstart economic growth
  • Make Britain a clean energy superpower
  • Take back our streets
  • Break down barriers to opportunity
  • Build an NHS fit for the future

The economy

Both parties’ main pitches put the economy front and centre – and, as Global Government Forum has previously examined, tight public finances are the overarching context for the election, with the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, Richard Hughes, saying that the current lack of information on departmental spending beyond 2025 means that government spending plans are “worse than fiction”. This week, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies added to this, saying that there is a “conspiracy of silence” from both the Conservatives and Labour over tax plans in manifestos.

The overall assumption is that government revenue spending will be limited to a 1% increase in real terms in the following four years, so the election campaign is defined by the tight fiscal constraints that the next government will face – and all parties put a strong focus on growing the economy, which would grow tax revenue for public services.

The Conservatives say that economic security “is the bedrock of any future success, which is why we have a clear plan to take the bold action needed to build a strong economy”, and have set out five key economic priorities:

  • reducing borrowing and debt
  • backing businesses to invest, innovate and trade
  • cutting taxes and reforming our welfare system
  • delivering world-class education
  • delivering an affordable transition to domestic, sustainable energy.

For Labour, kickstarting economic growth is its top priority. The party has pledged to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7 – “with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country making everyone, not just a few, better off”.

To do this, the party has pledged to take six actions. These include delivering economic stability with tough spending rules, such as a pledge that the party will move the current budget into balance, so there is no borrowing for day-to-day government spending.

The party also proposes a new partnership with business through the development of an industrial strategy and strategic partnerships, and a National Wealth Fund to invest in jobs. Planning reform, which is intended to build 1.5 million new homes, will also contribute to growth, while ‘a new deal for working people’ will ban “exploitative zero hours contracts”, end fire and rehire, and introduce basic rights from day one to parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal.

The party pledges a new approach to economic management– “securonomics” – that focuses on sustainable growth. “Our approach will depend on a dynamic and strategic state,” the manifesto states. “This does not mean ever-growing government, but it does mean a more active, smarter government that works in partnership with business, trade unions, local leaders, and devolved governments.”

Civil service management and workforce

In government, the Conservatives have pledged to improve the productivity of central government, with the aim of closing the productivity gap that has developed since the coronavirus pandemic.

Public service productivity is currently estimated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to be 5.9% below pre-pandemic levels, and analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggests that raising public sector productivity by 5% would be the equivalent of around £20bn extra in funding.

They set out a six-point plan to make government more efficient:

  • Return the civil service to its pre-pandemic size – having already frozen Whitehall headcount at its current levels, and pledging to cut it back to pre-pandemic levels, a headcount reduction of 66,000 from 488,000 civil servants.
  • Halve the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on external consultants and introduce controls on all ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ initiatives and spending.
  • Bring quango spending under control.
  • Move 25,000 more civil servants outside of London, building on moves already made in the government’s Places for Growth programme.
  • Open up civil service recruitment by requiring jobs to be advertised externally to identify the best candidates.

On skills, the Conservatives also pledge to double digital and AI expertise in the civil service, “to take advantage of the latest technologies to transform public services”, and say they will require departments to deliver plans for 2% annual productivity growth at the next Spending Review.

The party also pledges to devolve power out of Whitehall, with the objective of ensuring that every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal by 2030.

However, there are also some pledges to curtail local discretion. The party plans to maintain restrictions on the amount that local authorities can increase council tax by without a local referendum, as well as banning the development of ‘four-day working week’ practices in local authorities.

Labour has also said it will take action to devolve power out of Whitehall, with pledges to widen devolution to more areas beyond existing combined authorities, and local authorities encouraged to come together and take on new powers.

The party has made few specific pledges around how it would manage Whitehall, beyond a promise to “improve resilience and preparation across central government, local authorities, local communities, and emergency services” and a plan to reform the migration system by strengthening the Migration Advisory Committee and establishing a framework for joint working across skills bodies and the Department for Work and Pensions. This is intended to “end the long-term reliance on overseas workers in some parts of the economy”, reducing immigration.

Sustainability and climate

The Conservative party has made a number of pledges on sustainability, including legislating to reach net zero by 2050. 

However, current prime minister Rishi Sunak set out a new approach last year, which he said would reach net zero without imposing “unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families”. 

The manifesto continues this approach by setting out what the party calls its plan for “an affordable and pragmatic transition to net zero”.  

Pledges include guaranteeing a parliamentary vote on the next stage of the UK’s pathway to net zero, intended to ensure that “adoption of any new target is accompanied by proper consideration of the plans and policies required to meet the target”. 

The Conservative manifesto has also called for the body that currently advises the government on its progress on net zero plans – the Climate Change Committee – to be given an explicit mandate to consider the cost to households and UK energy security in its future climate advice, while it also pledges to lower green levies on household bills.

Labour defines the climate and nature crisis as “the greatest long-term global challenge that we face”. Actions proposed to tackle it include investing in green jobs to boost economic growth and help the UK get to net zero, a moratorium on issuing new licences to explore new offshore oil fields, and a concerted push to improve international collaboration on climate action through a new Clean Power Alliance “bringing together a coalition of countries at the cutting edge of climate action”.

The skills investment is part of a Green Prosperity Plan intended to make Britain a clean energy superpower. This plan will include forming a state-owned energy company, Great British Energy, as well as improving residential housing insulation.

There is also a pledge to “ensure the institutional framework for policy making reflects our commitments to reach net zero and meet our carbon budgets”.

Digital and data

As well as proposing to double digital and AI expertise in the civil service in order to take advantage of the latest technologies to transform public services, the Conservatives pledge to “continue to invest in the digital, transport and energy infrastructure needed for businesses to grow”.

The party says it will roll out new digital health checks to 250,000 more people every year, helping to prevent hundreds of strokes and heart attacks, as well as investing to make the NHS App the single front door for NHS services.

Labour’s manifesto only has limited mentions of digital, and no specific mentions of digital government. However, there are pledges to improve data sharing across public services to better support children and families, using a single unique identifier. The party also pledges to create a National Data Library to bring together existing research programmes and help deliver data-driven public services.

Labour has promised to digitise the Red Book record of children’s health – a pledge also made by the Conservatives.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence will, according to the Conservative manifesto, “accelerate human progress in the 21st century, just as the steam engine and electricity did in the 19th century”.

As well as doubling AI expertise in the civil service, the Conservatives plan to invest over £1.5bn in developing computing clusters, “assembling the raw processing power so we can take advantage of the potential of AI and support research into its safe and responsible use”. The party pledges to use AI to free up doctors’ and nurses’ time for frontline patient care, in line with the NHS Productivity Plan set out in the 2024 Budget.

Labour pledges that “we will ensure our industrial strategy supports the development of the artificial intelligence sector, removes planning barriers to new data centres” and says it “will harness the power of technologies like AIto transform the speed and accuracy of diagnostic services, saving potentially thousands of lives”.

In particular, the party promises to double the number of state-of-the-art scanners with embedded AI, stating that they are faster and more effective at finding smaller tumours to save lives.

Public services

Labour has made a number of pledges on improving public services, which it says “is essential to growing our economy across the country”.

It pledges to build “an NHS fit for the future that is there when people need it”, with an “immediate priority” on providing an extra 40,000 NHS appointments every week, and the objective of returning the NHS to meeting performance standards.

Longer term, Labour plans to reform the NHS to shift it away “from a model geared towards late diagnosis and treatment, to a model where more services are delivered in local communities”. This would include delivering the NHS long-term workforce plan, as well as developing local partnership working between the NHS and social care on hospital discharge.

Labour will also create Young Futures hubs that will provide open access mental health services for children and young people in every community.

On education, the party pledges to “transform our education system” by expanding early-years childcare and modernising the school curriculum. Labour will recruit an additional 6,500 new expert teachers, with a focus on getting more teachers into shortage subjects and support areas that face recruitment challenges.

The Conservatives say they will introduce a legal cap on migration to guarantee that numbers will fall every year, in order to protect public services from increased demand.

The party says it is also committed to accelerating the NHS’s recovery from the pandemic, “delivering safe and effective services and ongoing improvements in waiting times for primary, elective, cancer and emergency care”. It pledges to return performance to the levels set out in the NHS Constitution by the end of the next Parliament through investing in NHS modernisation and cutting “waste and bureaucracy in the NHS”. The Conservatives say they will reduce the number of managers by 5,500, which they estimate would release £550m for frontline services and simplify and streamline oversight and accountability.

The party says it is also committed “to supporting a high-quality and sustainable social care system”, and would give councils a multi-year funding settlement to support social care at the next Spending Review.

On education, the party says it will “protect children by requiring schools to ban the use of mobile phones during the school day and ensuring parents can see what their children are being taught, especially on sensitive matters like sex education”, while it also pledges to transform 16-19 education by introducing the Advanced British Standard that would enable young people to receive “a broader education and [remove] the artificial divide between academic and technical learning”.


The Conservatives have said they will work with public sector organisations including local authorities and NHS trusts and companies benefitting from government contracts to ensure that procurement opportunities are focused on SMEs in their local economies where possible and practical. There is also a promise to improve public sector procurement to deliver the goal that at least 50% of food expenditure is spent on food produced locally or to higher environmental production standards, and plans for a new integrated procurement model to quicken defence purchasing.

The party also pledges to promote digital invoicing and improve enforcement of the Prompt Payment Code to support small businesses with the perennial challenge of cashflow, building on its creation of the Small Business Commissioner with powers to tackle unfavourable payment practices.

Labour has pledged to reform procurement rules to help small- and medium-sized enterprises gain greater access to government contracts. The party has also pledged “simplify the procurement process to support innovation and reduce micromanagement with a mission-driven approach” in government, and it has also made specific procurement proposals for public services. These include creating a clearer route to get products into the NHS, reforms to defence procurement to reduce waste, and nationwide procurement standards across police forces – which will be accompanied by shared services and specialist functions to drive down costs.

The UK general election: what the manifestos reveal about the next government webinar was held for Global Government Forum’s knowledge partners. Watch the full session in which as well as discussing GGF’s commercial opportunities, we discuss Labour’s 100 day plan if they win the election; how a new government will review procurement; how the next government will look to partner with the private sector; and how to deliver missions in government.

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