UK Politics

Cameron insists he is delivering on election pledges

David Cameron

The Conservatives are delivering on manifesto pledges on childcare, home ownership and skills training, David Cameron has argued as he set out the "progress" made since the election.

The prime minister used a speech to re-assert his key domestic priorities after 10 days in which the political agenda has been dominated by Syria.

He said he was "marking commitments off" not heading in a "new direction".

And he announced an expansion of the shared home ownership scheme.

Mr Cameron marked seven months since his party won a majority by insisting there would be no let-up in its drive to achieve the goals it set out in May, including the expansion of free childcare, rising home ownership and creating millions of new apprenticeships.

After two weeks in which attention has been focused on the government's U-turn over tax credit cuts and the decision to bomb so-called Islamic State fighters in Syria, the prime minister insisted he would not be blown off course by events and was determined to press ahead with changes to boost opportunity and increase security at "every stage" of people's lives.

Among new initiatives he announced include:

  • Allowing people who part-own, part-rent properties through shared ownership schemes to "trade up"
  • Setting aside £8m for councils to prepare land for new starter homes
  • Giving childcare providers the right to use unused school facilities, subject to a consultation
  • New targets for the number of apprentices in the public sector
  • Powers to tackle failing and coasting schools to be expanded to cover academies

The government says 230,000 people have been "helped into home ownership" since 2010 through schemes such as shared ownership, in which people can buy a share in a property, ranging from 25% to 75%, using a deposit and a mortgage.

'Nation of homeowners'

Mr Cameron said current restrictions stopping people from using shared ownership on multiple occasions would be lifted to allow people to move to bigger properties when they start a family or their circumstances change.

Combined with eligibility changes announced in last month's Autumn Statement - which will enable anyone in the UK to apply for shared ownership irrespective of where they live or what job they do as long as they earn less than £80,000 or £90,000 in London - Mr Cameron claimed this is proof that the government is committed to "building a nation of homeowners".

"So many people are attracted to the idea, especially those who thought they never had a chance of owning a home," he said.

"But because it has been too heavily restricted, many people have missed out. We have had local councils dictating who is eligible, based on everything from salary to profession to where the buyer comes from.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Critics say the Tories' record on housing has been one of "five years of failure"
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A decision on Heathrow expansion is one of the most thorny the prime minister faces

"From April next year, that will make 175,000 more people eligible for home ownership. It means some people will be able to buy a house, for example, in Yorkshire, with a deposit of just £1,400."

Mr Cameron has pledged to double the number of first-time buyers, build 200,000 new starter homes and 275,000 new affordable homes by 2020, but critics say this is nowhere near ambitious enough to meet the demand for new housing.

Labour has accused the Tories of presiding over a fall in home ownership to the lowest level in a generation, a record low peacetime level of house building and a sharp drop in the number of affordable homes to buy.

Shadow housing minister John Healey said: "The spending review revealed that the government is set to halve funding for affordable homes compared to the plans inherited from Labour.

"At the same time they are driving a Housing Bill through parliament which will choke off low-cost homes, including for shared ownership."

'Accountable'

As he marks his 10th year as Conservative leader, Mr Cameron - who has said he will stand down before the 2020 election - said he would be "accountable" for the government's success or failure in achieving his party's manifesto commitments.

"A manifesto should not be a wish-list, it should be a checklist," he said. "I want to go back to that opening page and show that this is a government that delivers."

The government's plan to introduce a payroll levy to fund three million new apprenticeship places remains unpopular with business while the House of Lords has called for plans to double free childcare for parents of three and four year-olds to be put on hold amid concerns about its funding.

The speech comes amid uncertainty over when a decision on the controversial issue of airport capacity in the south-east of England will be made.

The prime minister said in July that the government would decide whether to go ahead with a new runway at Heathrow - as recommended by the independent Airports Commission - by the end of the year.

But amid reports that the decision could be delayed until after next year's mayoral election in London for political reasons, No 10 said the prime minister would give what it described as a "clear direction" in the coming weeks.

The Tory candidate for London mayor, Zac Goldsmith, is opposed to Heathrow expansion as is the current mayor Boris Johnson.

But Unite, the country's biggest trade union, said a third runway at Heathrow was "fundamental" to the success of the economy. The union, led by Len McCluskey, will brief MPs in the Commons this week as part of its campaign to back its expansion.

"With expansion, the overall number of flights would grow, but new approach and departure paths could enable the noise impacts to be dispersed more widely, limiting the impacts on any individual community," Mr McCluskey said.

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