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Rishi Sunak vows to ‘balance books’ despite pandemic

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionRishi Sunak: “This Conservative government will always balance the books”. The chancellor has vowed to “always balance the books”, despite increased spending in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In a speech to party members, Rishi Sunak said the Conservatives had a “sacred duty” to “leave the…

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Media captionRishi Sunak: “This Conservative government will always balance the books”.

The chancellor has vowed to “always balance the books”, despite increased spending in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a speech to party members, Rishi Sunak said the Conservatives had a “sacred duty” to “leave the public finances strong”.

He vowed the use the “overwhelming might of the British state” to help people find new work.

But he said debt and spending needed controlling “over the medium term”.

In an online speech during the Conservatives’ annual party conference, he said: “I won’t stop trying to find ways to support people and businesses.”

However, he added the party could not argue there was “no limit on what we can spend”, nor that “we can simply borrow our way out of any hole”.

Mr Sunak cited the furlough scheme and its successor, the jobs support scheme, as examples of government action to support employment during the crisis.

He said though that, although the government would “keep striving to be creative” on employment support, he would also have to be “pragmatic”.

He told members that “no chancellor” would be able to save every job or business, adding changes to the economy due to Covid-19 “can’t be ignored”.

Official figures published in September show government borrowed £35.9bn in the previous month, its highest amount for August since records began in 1993.

Borrowing between April and August totalled £173.7bn, as ministers spent billions on coronavirus-related schemes to support the economy.

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Ministers have pledged additional support to help people find new work.

In an interview after his speech, the chancellor said government debt – which passed £2 trillion for the first time in history in August – was vulnerable to increases in borrowing costs.

“Now that we have so much debt, it doesn’t take a lot for suddenly ‘yikes’ – we have to come up with X billion pounds a year to pay for higher interest,” he said.

Mr Sunak – who has been touted as a potential future Tory leader – also said he did not want to become PM, and described his “close personal friendship” with Boris Johnson.

‘Nothing to say’

Asked if he eventually wants to replace Mr Johnson, he replied: “No. Definitely not seeing what the prime minister has to deal with, this is a job hard enough for me to do.”

In response to his speech, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said Mr Sunak had “nothing to say” to millions of people whose jobs were at risk.

She told reporters more “targeted support” was required for sectors of the economy that have been hardest hit by restrictions during the pandemic.

“Sadly there was nothing from the chancellor today to suggest that he grasped the magnitude of the jobs crisis we’re facing,” she added.

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus.