Truss shifts focus to policing as Sunak promises to whittle Whitehall down to fund winter support

·4 min read

Liz Truss has shifted her focus to tackling anti-social behaviour after a bruising weekend over the cost of living crisis - while Rishi Sunak has pledged to whittle down Whitehall to fund support for those struggling with bills this winter.

As the Tory leadership contest continued to get more angsty, despite both saying it was not, Ms Truss tried to veer away from the focus on tax cuts after she was forced on the defensive over her cost of living pledges over the weekend.

But Mr Sunak jumped on the issue of the day after the Bank of England last week predicted 13% inflation and a UK recession by pledging to make Whitehall departments make savings to help fund support during an "extremely tough winter".

Ms Truss suggested there would be no "handouts" if she won the race for No 10 and her priority was reducing the tax burden.

But her allies said her remarks had been "misinterpreted" and she is committed to helping struggling families as bills soar.

She used a visit alongside former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith to a youth centre in Dagenham, east London, on Monday to reiterate her commitment to police forces being able to "get back to basics and spend their time making streets safer".

Her campaign team highlighted her commitment to require police forces to publish homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime rates, while introducing a 20% reduction target by the end of this parliament.

They said Ms Truss would deliver on the Conservative manifesto commitment to recruit 20,000 more police officer and ensure they focus on frontline policing and are not "overly burdened by form filling".

Ms Truss said: "People across Britain want to feel safe on their streets. They want to know that criminals are being locked up and crime is being prevented. They want a government that takes action on tackling anti-social behaviour which we know will also help improve young people's life chances.

"I'll deliver on our commitment to have 20,000 more police officers. More importantly, I'll make sure our police forces get back to basics and spend their time making streets safer.

"People can trust me to keep our streets safe, make our communities better, and deliver what I say I will."

Mr Sunak has already pledged to expand police powers to tackle anti-social behaviour and crack down on graffiti and littering.

The pair will face more Tory members on Tuesday during a hustings session in Darlington - the "red wall" area turned blue under Boris Johnson's leadership in 2019. They have less than a month to go before members' voting closes on 2 September.

Borrowing to an 'absolute minimum'

On Monday, the former chancellor said his plan to support people this winter would involve one-off borrowing to an "absolute minimum" by seeking "efficiency savings" across government departments.

The civil service has been criticised as being bloated, having grown by 23% since its lowest numbers in 2016 to 511,000 in June this year.

Mr Sunak's team said the approach would aim to replicate previous measures used to fund support in Ukraine.

Departments and devolved administrations were asked to find underspends from their capital budgets, which involves money spent on investment and things used to create future growth.

Mr Sunak labelled Ms Truss's plan for tax cuts in an emergency budget as a "big bung" for large businesses and those better off, and said it would do little to help those most in need this coming winter.

He said this winter is "going to be extremely tough" for families so "more support will be needed".

"As chancellor, I put in place a framework to support hard-working families and pensioners to bring bills down," he said.

"People need proven methods that will deliver for them quickly. So I will use the framework I created to provide further support and give millions of people the peace of mind they desperately need ahead of the winter.

"I'm very clear about what is required to help people, and as soon as we know how much bills will go up by, I will act."

He promised to keep one-off borrowing to a minimum and will first seek efficiency savings across Whitehall to provide direct support for families "to help with the unprecedented situation we face".

Both candidates are coming under pressure to do more over soaring cost of living costs, with ex-prime minister Gordon Brown calling for the pair, and Boris Johnson, to agree on an emergency budget this week.

Research by the Labour Party suggests £1 in every £5 spent by pensioners this winter will go on energy bills - and "fantasy tax cuts" proposed by Tory leadership hopefuls won't benefit older people.