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Your X marks the spot they're trying to hide

29 April 2005 by
Your X marks the spot they're trying to hide

The Conservative Party claims that its bulging list of general election promises simply will not fit into the slimline manifesto with which it has chosen to woo voters in the coming general election. In the case of Labour's tome, however, the rationale could be more about camouflaging a slim list of promises inside a bulging document.

Naturally, attention will focus on what has been left out of the parties' manifestos. Commentators immediately pounced on Labour's failure to disown increases in National Insurance. Similarly, while Labour's little red book makes great claims for simplifying rules for business, specifics are thin on the ground.

When it comes to licensing and binge-drinking, Labour continues to hammer away at the idea of Alchohol Disorder Zones. It plans to fund extra policing this way, and shut down premises that sell alcohol to under-age drinkers. Their example is followed by the Liberal Democrats, who threaten "big late-night venues" with contributions to police funding.

The licensing question does not sully the pages of the Conservative manifesto, but a spokesman said that the party would delay implementation of the Licensing Act. "We would carry out a review and delay a new Act until the binge-drinking problem was under control," he said. "The cost and bureaucracy involved in obtaining a licence is having a negative impact on smaller premises."

For vocational training, Labour is promising "a genuinely employer-driven training system", with a Sector Skills Council determining training strategy in each industry. In a pre-manifesto speech, chancellor Gordon Brown suggested that the 245,000 young people currently in government-supported apprenticeships will swell to 300,000 by 2008.

The Conservative manifesto undertakes to "simplify funding" for further education and "replace the bureaucratic Learning and Skills Councils". In an education-focused speech in Nottingham, party leader Michael Howard said the money saved would fund a network of "skills super-colleges".

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats talk about making vocational routes available to school students from the age of 14. The Liberal Democrats also say they will close the funding gap between schools and colleges, with more college facilities for skills training.

The issue of immigration is also pertinent to the catering and hotels sector. Labour's manifesto foresees a points system where "more skills mean more points". It adds: "We will ensure that only skilled workers are allowed to settle long-term in the UK." Labour would also introduce a £2,000 civil fine for every illegal immigrant that a business employs.

It should come as no surprise that the Australian-run Conservative Party campaign advocates "a points-based system for work permits similar to the one used in Australia". Of course, "points" again depend on "skills", a word neither of the two biggest parties has yet troubled itself to define.

The Liberal Democrats take the least restrictive line on immigration. Not only would the party not implement the type of points system that the two leading parties espouse, but it would also allow asylum-seekers to work legally.

All three main parties mention improvements to the rail and road system. Labour talks about committing more than £180b to transport between now and 2015. The Liberal Democrats place the emphasis on rail, the Conservatives on the road network, but neither's manifesto gives figures on investment.

Finally, Labour has already said it will increase the minimum wage to £5.05 in October this year, with a further rise to £5.35 a year later. How refreshing it would be if all the costs and expenditures were this closely defined across the manifestos.

Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 21 April 2005

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