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General election 2024: Seven things we learned from the Conservative manifesto

What is in the Conservative manifesto?

Rishi Sunak launches the Conservative Party General Election manifesto at Silverstone in Towcester, Northamptonshire.
Rishi Sunak launched the Conservative Party 2024 manifesto at Silverstone in Towcester, Northamptonshire.

On Tuesday 11 June the Conservative Party officially launched its 2024 election manifesto. Entitled 'Clear plan, bold action, secure future', the 80-page document sets out the governing party’s pitch for re-election, with headline pledges covering tax, support for families and immigration. Our experts give their verdict on the policy offer from Rishi Sunak’s party on seven key areas of IfG interest.

The Conservative manifesto is not “fully funded”

The manifesto sets out a package of tax cuts more than paid for by savings on tax avoidance and welfare spending – but only superficially. This supports their pitch that “the only way to give people the peace of mind that government will be able to support them again when future shocks hit is to get borrowing and debt down”. But their policy proposals are far from fully funded.

The giveaways (such as cuts to National Insurance contributions and the higher income tax personal allowance for pensioners) are fairly certain and easy to cost, including £17bn of tax cuts by 2029/30. The hoped for savings from tax avoidance are much less certain. 20  And much of the £12bn of savings from the changes to disability benefits that the manifesto describes have already been accounted for in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) latest forecast. 21

The proposal to reduce immigration via a cap based on recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee 22  is likely to have a fiscal impact but has not been costed, the manifesto simply stating the policy would take into account “the costs and benefits of migration”. However, the OBR’s latest assessment has been that new migrants have a net positive impact on the public finances – paying more in fees and taxes than they cost in welfare payments (for which most new migrants are ineligible). 23  Even if public service spending were to go up in line with changes in the population, the OBR’s analysis suggests the overall fiscal impact would remain positive. 24  That suggests that a policy to reduce migration could in fact weaken the fiscal outlook.

Jeremy Hunt, chancellor, outside No 11 Downing Street with the budget case in his hand.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. The manifesto does nothing to clarify how a future Conservative government would deliver the implausibly tight public service spending plans that were already pencilled in by the chancellor at the last budget. 

But the more important point – stepping back from individual new proposals – is that the manifesto does nothing to clarify how a future Conservative government would deliver the implausibly tight public service spending plans that were already pencilled in by the chancellor at the last budget. The document makes no attempt to set out the trade-offs that a Conservative government would be willing to make and, if anything, adds further new ambitions – a “dramatic expansion of mental health support” and 8,000 more police officers, for example – while ruling out increases in capital gains tax as well as income tax, VAT and NICs, which together make up almost two thirds of tax revenues.

The proposals will do little to address the biggest problems facing public services

As might be expected from a party that has been in power for the past 14 years, many of the headline public services pledges in the manifesto are a restatement of existing government policy. This includes providing 30 hours of free childcare a week from the age of nine months to the start of school, delivering the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan published last year, combining A levels and T levels into a new Advanced British Standard qualification, and banning the use of mobile phones during the school day.

Some of the other ‘headline’ policies are relatively small beer. Helping to pay for 100 new GP surgeries and modernising 150 more will not, for instance, come close to fixing the problems across the nearly 9,000 existing general practice premises. Others reflect a partial repudiation of changes previously implemented by Conservative governments. For example, proposing a mandatory National Service for all school leavers at 18 to improve “skills and opportunities” for young people when spending on local authority youth services has been slashed since 2010 and funding for the National Citizen Service cut by two thirds since the last election feels something of an about turn. Others would be actively harmful. For example, cutting 5,500 NHS managers would make it even harder for the Conservatives to achieve their objective of improving NHS productivity.

Probably the biggest new announcement is the proposal to add 8,000 more police officers. This is a memorable proposal but increasing the number of police staff and Police Community Support Officers, rather than expensively trained officers with the power to make arrests, would be a more cost-effective way of boosting police performance. Even more problematically, the manifesto does not grapple with the reality that the already overwhelmed courts and prison systems would not be able to cope with the increased number of charges that could be expected from increasing officer numbers.

The Royal Courts of Justice
The Conservative Party is promising to recruit 8,000 additional police officers over the next three years if it wins the general election. But this does not grapple with the reality that the already overwhelmed courts and prison systems would not be able to cope with the increased number of charges that could be expected.

The manifesto also lacks serious plans to tackle some of the biggest issues facing public services, including: access to general practice; scores of local authorities on the edge of bankruptcy; record court backlogs; full prisons; and a broken children’s residential care market.

Staff walking down an NHS hospital corridor.

Cutting 5,500 NHS managers would make it even harder for the Conservatives to achieve their objective of improving NHS productivity.

Plans on devolution are a setback rather than a reset

There is a recommitment to local growth and investment in the manifesto. But while the phrase remains, it is striking how far the ‘levelling up’ agenda has been hollowed out. All that remains of the agenda that – alongside Brexit – carried Boris Johnson into the 2019 election campaign is a skeleton consisting of existing funding streams (freeports, investment zones and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is being diverted to fund national service), existing commitments (every part of England being offered a devolution deal by 2030), and relatively small community initiatives (chewing gum removal, seaside heritage, restoring pavements and fly tipping). 

Many of the positive aspects of the 2022 Levelling Up White Paper are nowhere to be seen: there is no mention of any of the 12 missions or Michael Gove’s broader ambitions to ‘rewire Whitehall’. Mayors in England may be set to benefit from proposals affecting their policy areas, such as the proposed investment in transport, adult skills and the renewal of the Affordable Homes Programme – but these are still framed as distinct policy areas, rather than as part of a regional growth strategy. This is a setback.

Falmouth town centre with people shopping in the summer, Falmouth, Cornwall, Westcountry
There is a recommitment to local growth and investment in the manifesto. But the 'levelling up' agenda has been hollowed out.

This looks like a manifesto in which mayors have been somewhat side-stepped in the Conservative’s plans for growth – offering just one power beyond their existing commitments (relating to investment in strategic roads). The manifesto even sets in stone the government’s intentions to override mayoral policy on planning and ULEZ in London – two topics on which the mayor has a recently renewed mandate.

Similarly, the devolution settlements with Scotland and Wales may be affected by the proposed new accountability arrangements and policies that appear to restrict some devolved powers –such as the Backing Drivers Bill, which could override the 20mph speed limit set nationally in Wales. Otherwise, the manifesto sought to uphold the status quo in the nations emphasising the need for performance delivery within existing devolution settlements rather than promise the devolution of new powers. The manifesto restated existing policies and achievements such as commitments outlined in the recent agreement reached with the DUP as well as funding provided to the nations under UK-wide schemes.  

General election 2024

The next UK general election will be held on Thursday 4 July. Our analysis, explainers and events explore what happens before and during an election, how political parties and the civil service prepare for the outcome and what it means for government.

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No.10 Downing Street

On net zero, the Conservative manifesto raises more questions than it answers  

The manifesto contains an odd mix of policies as regards net zero and climate change. It rules out things that were never policy, by stating people will not be “forced” to replace existing boilers with heat pumps. It re-announces several existing policies, such as the goal to build the first two carbon capture and storage (CCS) clusters. And it includes some seemingly very ambitious ones too, such as approving two new fleets of Small Modular Reactors within the first 100 days.  

It does not explain how annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas are compatible with the UK’s targets, or whether the new gas plants committed to will be ready to incorporate CCS later. In between, there are some sensible goals – halving approval times for new nuclear reactors and building more interconnectors – but without any information on how they would make them happen.

Oil production with platforms in the North Sea.
The manifesto does not explain how annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas are compatible with the UK’s climate change targets.

But the biggest outstanding issue is who will pay for net zero. The manifesto promises to ensure “policy costs and levies on household energy bills are lower in each year of the next Parliament than they were in 2023” and rules out “creating further green levies”, road pricing and “any frequent flyer levy”. This raises the question of how a returned Conservative government would fund public sector investment in net zero – or what it would do about the loss of fuel duty revenues as the public makes the switch to electric vehicles (another omission).

The manifesto promises “proper consideration of the plans and policies required” in parliament ahead of any new targets. The IfG supports better parliamentary scrutiny on net zero, but for that to happen a would-be government must be open and clear about its proposed approach to net zero. This manifesto does not deliver that. 

Watch our webinar on what is in the Conservative manifesto

Ambitious housebuilding targets lack a robust plan to deliver them

On home ownership, the Conservative manifesto doubles down on demand-side measures – Help to Buy and stamp duty cuts. These help some first-time buyers to get on the ladder so improve the picture in the short term, but without sufficient housing supply they usually boost prices in the long run. 27 Hammond G, Help to Buy has pushed up house prices in England, says report, Financial Times, 10 January 2022,

The core question is whether a Conservative government will really tackle England’s chronic housing shortage. On this the manifesto sets an ambitious target – promising 1.6m new homes in England in the next parliament. This means building on average 320,000 homes a year: double the projected rate for 2024-25. 28 Buckle C and Williams E, Housing Completions Forecast for England, Savills, 7 May 2024,

The strategy is clear enough: a fast-track planning route to concentrate development on brownfield sites in England’s 20 largest cities, and a “cast iron” commitment not to touch the green belt. But there are no guarantees that enough brownfield land will come through the planning system, and there is nothing to suggest from the manifesto that the new fast-track planning route will have any teeth.  

Successive governments have set national housing targets that have fallen by the wayside without enough “sticks” requiring local planning authorities to implement them. If most, or all, local authorities retain all their veto powers, it is hard to see how a returned Conservative government could guarantee that enough planning permissions get granted to build 1.6 million houses in five years.

New House Building Development Nightingale Gardens Stanway Colchester Essex UK

The Conservative Party has promised 1.6m new homes in England in the next parliament.

Proposals for the civil service are generally sensible – but ‘efficiency savings’ are not credible

The manifesto includes some welcome plans for the civil service. Reducing the use of external consultants, moving more officials out of London to build on the success of the Darlington Economic Campus, improving digital expertise and opening up recruitment to more external candidates are all things the IfG has called for in the past.

But the Conservative Party’s claim to be “cutting government bureaucracy” to improve efficiency and save billions to invest in defence is not credible. The aspiration to return the civil service to its pre-pandemic size was undermined even on the day of the manifesto launch, which coincided with the latest staffing numbers release showing an 8,000 headcount rise in just the last quarter – 21,000 up over the last year. Jeremy Hunt’s announcement of a headcount cap last October has not worked and a better approach would be to target savings in pounds, rather than setting arbitrary headcount targets.

Civil servants outside the Foreign Office, King Charles Street Whitehall London
The Conservative Party’s claim to be “cutting government bureaucracy” to improve efficiency and save billions to invest in defence is not credible. 

Even if the civil service does start to shrink – and there is room to slim down – the promised savings look shaky. The party claims that £3.9bn a year will be released by the end of the parliament. But successive governments have found it hard to turn promised job cuts into cashable savings, with supposed ‘efficiencies’ resulting in higher spend on contractors and other overheads. The Conservative Party would need to find further savings from elsewhere to balance the books. 

Rhetoric around ‘quangos’ belies plans to establish more 

The Conservatives have further pledged to achieve 1.3bn annual savings by 2029/30 through efficiencies in public bodies. This is an ambitious target. In an consolidated landscape – the coalition government abolished nearly 300 quangos – there is not much fat left to trim. Savings on this scale will almost certainly require cutting the services bodies provide. Around 80% of the £300bn spent annually on arm’s-length bodies (ALBs) goes to just three: NHS England, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and HMRC, which fund the NHS, schools and some benefits respectively.

Despite their spending claims and plans to improve the accountability of specific public bodies – including the BBC, Natural England and the Environment Agency – several of the Conservatives’ commitments actually involve strengthening or setting up more of them. Alongside (re)introducing a bill for Great British Railways and continuing plans to establish an Independent Football Regulator, they would set up a new Intertrade UK body to promote trade within the UK and expand the role of the British Business Bank. The manifesto includes no plans to close any bodies.

Environment Agency workers pumping water after a flood.
The Conservative Party, if elected, is planning to improve the accountability of specific public bodies, including the Environment Agency.

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What is a manifesto?

Manifestos set out the policies a political party would deliver if they were to win a general election.