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FactCheck: Blair's last PMQs

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 27 June 2007

Tony Blair's last question time was full of tributes - and a touch of gloating. How did the claims stack up?

The claim

"In 1997 the PM said there were 24 hours to save the NHS. Why is it that more than 87,600 hours later, his successor is still indicating there is a need to save the NHS?"
David Burrowes, Conservative

The analysis

In such a large organisation as the health service, it's hard to say conclusively that things are completely better or completely worse; there are so many different factors to look at.

Back in 1997, Labour's manifesto set health goals including removing people from waiting lists, ending cancer waiting times and increasing spending on patients year-on-year.

As Blair says in his answer today, waiting lists are at record lows - at least, according to the government's preferred set of statistics.

As FactCheck has found, a wait for treatment is still far from a thing of the past, although things have improved greatly since the Tories were in power. There has been massive investment in the NHS - although whether it's money well spent is another matter.

So what of the NHS's future? In his speech after being made party leader on Sunday, Gordon Brown said the NHS would be "an immediate priority" and detailed areas in which Labour needed to get better.

These areas included better access hours for patients and getting the basics of food, hygiene and cleanliness right - a rather different set of promises to those set out 10 years ago.

It's not quite the stuck record that Burrowes suggests - more a case of being vigilant about keeping the great Labour baby at the top of the agenda.

The sources

Brown's first speech as leader of the Labour Party
1997 Labour Party general election manifesto
FactCheck: are hospital waiting lists too long?

The claim

"It's correct of course that crime has fallen under the period of this government"
Tony Blair

The analysis

It's also correct, of course, that the measurement and recording of crime is one of slipperiest areas of political statistics.

Recorded crimes appeared to increase under Labour until 2004, when they started to decline. However, the increase is due at least in part to a change in the way crimes are measured.

Perhaps more worryingly, violent crime appears to be on the increase. Under another measure of crime, the British Crime Survey, which asks people whether they have been a victim of crime, crime appears to have fallen.

Earlier this week, the survey was criticised by criminologists for leaving out around three million crimes a year - although this would have affected the stats under both Labour and the Tories.

An independent audit of 10 years of crime under Labour by King's College London found that although "on paper nearly all targets have been met, in reality Labour's record on various overall crime reduction targets is at best mixed."

The sources

Ten years of criminal justice under Labour: An independent audit (15th January 2007), PDF
British Crime Survey misleads public by omitting three million crimes, say Loughborough researchers
Do Tony's crime stats add up?

The claim

"In the coming months my constituents are faced with ... an ever-increasing tax burden."
Tony Baldry, Conservative

The analysis

One of the old Tory scares about Labour is tax increases. Tax revenues have gone up - from 37.3 per cent of national income in 1996-7 to 39.3 per cent in 2006-7, although public spending has also increased.

But the overall hit experienced by a taxpayer is far more complicated, as both benefits and taxes need to be taken into account.

An analysis by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested that the tax system is more progressive under Labour than in 1997; rich people pay more taxes, but poor people less.

The sources

The tax burden under Labour, Chapter 6, IFS Green budget 2005
FactCheck: Has Brown put tax up?

The claim

"We have increased the amount money for coastal defence protection to somewhere in the region of £600m a year."
Tony Blair

With floodwaters wreaking havoc in Sheffield, Blair's responding to a question from David Cameron on the question on funding available to local authorities.

Flood defences are set to be increasingly costly in the wake of global warming and rising sea levels.

It's true that the total government spend on flood management in England has increased under Labour: from £307m in 1996-7 to £590m last year. There was, however, a slight dip due to a £15m cut in 2006-07.

The Environment Agency, which carries out most of the flood defence work, estimates that it needs an extra £150m a year.

A National Audit Office report published earlier this month found that only 57 per cent of all flood risk asset systems, and 46 per cent of high risk systems (such as those protecting urban areas), had achieved their target condition by March 2007.

The sources

National Audit Office, Building and maintaining river and coastal flood defences in England 15 June 2007
Flood defence projects on hold BBC News 27 June 2007
Flood management and defence, Hansard, 18 April 2007

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