Conservative manifesto reveals plans to help UK workers ‘flourish’

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Boris Johnson has vowed to “invest in Britain’s people by giving them the tools and training to flourish in the 21st century” if the Conservative Party retains power at next month’s general election.

Its manifesto, which was published over the weekend, outlines plans for a £3bn national skills fund; an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system that prioritises high-skilled workers; “NHS visas” for overseas doctors and nurses to tackle resource gaps; and a £500m investment in helping “disadvantaged” people gain new skills.

It says a Conservative government will increase the threshold for paying national insurance contributions (NICs) from £8,632 to £9,500 in April 2020 – confirming the correct figures that should have been used by Boris Johnson when he announced the plan last week. It would also work towards a further increase to £12,500 which would align it with the income tax threshold.

The plans to increase the NICs threshold would benefit “almost all” employees, according to the Association of Accounting Technicians. However, head of public affairs and public policy Phil Hall said the party would likely have to increase NICs or remove exemptions elsewhere.

“Such a move doesn’t come cheap, the first step of increasing the threshold to £9,500 will cost over £2bn a year, increasing it to £12,500 will cost around £10bn a year. That’s £10bn that will have to be found from tax increases elsewhere unless cuts are to be made,” he said.

The document says a new £3bn “National Skills Fund” would ensure that employers can find and hire the workers they need. The fund would provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training, but an undisclosed proportion of the fund would be reserved for “further strategic investment in skills”.

“The National Skills Fund will help to transform the lives of people who have not got onto the work ladder and lack qualifications, as well as people who are keen to return to work from, say, raising a family, or switch from one career to another. It will not only make this country more prosperous, but fairer,” the document says.

The manifesto says a Conservative government would “make the UK the best place in the world to work” by creating a single enforcement body to crack down employment law breaches; ensuring workers can request a more flexible contract; consulting on introducing flexible working by default; strengthening redundancy protections for women who return from maternity leave; allowing parents to take extended leave for neonatal care; and introducing the right to one week of leave for unpaid carers.

Paul Holcroft, associate director at Croner, said that removing the current constraints on the right to request flexible working would be likely to prove problematic for organisations: “Employers will have to re-think their current workforce planning strategy to ensure the correct balance is struck between employees’ wishes and maintaining business operations.”

Other pledges made in the Conservative Party manifesto, many of which were outlined earlier this year, include:

  • significant recruitment in the public sector, including 20,000 police officers, 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 GPs and 6,000 more primary care professionals on top of the 7,500 nurses and 20,000 primary care professionals already announced
  • increasing teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000
  • making improvements to the apprenticeship levy – although it did not expand on the improvements it would consider
  • introducing an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system that would attract the “brightest and the best”
  • offering a small number of the “best” science and technology graduates fast-track entry to the UK.

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