Labour leader Ed Miliband has announced plans to spend £2.5bn on an army of nurses and doctors to heal the ailing NHS.
He set out the plan in his keynote address to the Labour Party conference in Manchester.
The lengthy 67-minute speech was designed to establish his credentials as a Prime Minister-in-waiting with a detailed plan ready to put into action once he enters 10 Downing Street.
There were few of the rhetorical flourishes designed to provoke applause which are a traditional feature of party conference speeches.
Instead, the Labour leader set out what he called “six national goals to transform our country”.
But speaking without notes, Mr Miliband handed a gift to Tory critics by failing to mention plans to cut the deficit, set out by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls earlier in the week - only for aides to confirm later that he simply forgot to deliver that part of the speech. A Labour source said it was “a long speech and of course some things changed in delivery” but said the party leader had mentioned a commitment not to borrow further to fund spending promises.
Plans to inject extra cash into the NHS received the warmest reception from delegates, who rose to their feet as Mr Miliband promised 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 more careworkers and 3,000 more midwives. An annual £2.5bn “Time to Care” fund will be paid for will come from through a crackdown on tax avoidance, which Labour says will raise £1.1bn, as well as a new “mansion tax” on homes worth more than £2m, raising £1.2bn, and new fees paid by tobacco firms.
Mr Miliband said: “We need to make sure there is a NHS there when we need it. Our plan for Britain’s future means we will create a world-class 21st century health and care service because a hospital is only as good as the services in the community. If people can’t get to see their GP, if they can’t get the care they need at home, they end up in hospital when that could have been avoided, that’s bad for them, and it costs billions of pounds. Those services are creaking. One in four people wait a week or more for a GP appointment. We’ve seen the scandal of care visits restricted to just 15 minutes for the elderly.”
Other measures set out by Mr Miliband included plans to increase wages for the low paid by raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour, creating new apprenticeship places, building new homes and creating a million high technology jobs by supporting environmental technology.
The Labour leader also said that his government would ensure wages rose at the same pace as the economy grew. He said: “All working people should share fairly in the growing wealth of the country. That means, as the economy grows, the wages of everyday working people grow at the same rate.”
And he said a Labour government would give 16 and 17-year olds the right to vote, following the Scottish referendum in which anyone aged 16 or over was able to take part.
Labour MPs in the North East welcomed the speech. Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman said: “The concrete proposals for more nurses, more new jobs on renewables, for a massive expansion in apprenticeships and new housebuilding were all things that deal with the practical problems that people face in this country.” Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell said: “It wasn’t a barnstorming speech. It was Miliband talking to the people of Britain and saying, ‘this is my ten year plan’.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “It tackled the issue with regard to such as the NHS sell off. You’ve got 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs. These are things that people are really concerned with. I was happy with the minimum wage increase to £8 an hour. This is going to help people in our region because we have such a great problem with low-waged employment.”
Mr Miliband highlighted Labour plans to devolve funding of £30bn to combined authorities.
But he condemned David Cameron’s proposal to introduce “English votes for English laws”, which appears to mean hold some House of Commons sessions for English MPs only. The Labour leader claimed the proposal woukd “divide” the United Kingdom and was motivated by Mr Cameron’s fear of UKIP.
Instead, Labour would set up a constitutional convention “harnessing the civic energy and spirit of people right across our land. England, Scotland, Wales, every part of the UK”. Adapting the “Better Together” slogan of the successful campaign to persuade Scots to vote “no” to independence, Mr Miliband said: “I say to every person in our country who believes that tomorrow can be better than today: we need you.”