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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 December 2004, 13:26 GMT
In full: Blair's New Year message
Here is the full text of Tony Blair's New Year's message

Normally at this time, we look forward to the events, hopes and fears of the New Year here in Britain.

At this moment, however, our thoughts are focused on what has just happened in Asia.

This New Year the world is united in sorrow for those affected by one of the biggest natural disasters in our lifetime.

Our prayers are with those who have died, those who have lost loved ones and friends and those whose lives have been destroyed by this terrible catastrophe in South East Asia.

Many families in Britain have been affected and we must and will do all we can to help them.

From the moment the disaster struck, we deployed emergency teams and key officials in the stricken area, and set up emergency assistance at home.

We are constantly increasing our aid and support and are determined to ensure that everything we provide is directed to where it is needed and can best be used.

The scale of this disaster is becoming more apparent each day and with it the need both for urgent and immediate relief for those affected, and the co-ordination of the international response to the long-term devastation this natural disaster will have caused.

The planning for this should start now but it will have to address problems whose impact will stretch over many months and even years ahead.

Britain stands ready to help in this in any way we can, including through the G8 Presidency we assume in January.

I will now turn to what, until the events in Asia occurred, would have been my traditional New Year message.

At home, Britain has every reason to be confident about our ability to overcome the challenges we face.

In a fast-changing world, we are as well placed as any nation to succeed.

My vision is and will remain a country of rising social mobility where the talent of our people is developed to the full and where you get on in life depending on hard work not birth or background.

For all the difficulties, we are steadily improving the life chances of our people.

The scale of these challenges is clear: intense economic competition driven by globalisation; security threats at home and abroad from terrorism and crime; the rising demands and expectations put on public services; and the issue of pensions and the changing needs of the welfare state.

But we are making real progress.

Britain's economic strength is fundamental to this confidence.

For seven and a half years our opponents have been predicting recession and for seven and a half years they have been wrong. 2005 will prove them wrong again.

Our economy is one of Europe's strongest. British inflation is one of Europe's lowest. Interest rates are at their lowest since the 1960s.

Unemployment at its lowest since the 1970s and the lowest in the G7 for the first time in fifty years.

The years of boom and bust have been replaced by steady growth and sound finances.

Independence for the Bank of England is delivering low inflation and low mortgage rates.

Britain has the largest share of inward investment in the EU. In place of three million unemployed, we are making progress towards full employment in every region of the country. Britain is working.

Our economic strength and stability gives us the opportunity to invest in the future of our nation's vital public services.

As a result, local schools and hospitals are now making real improvements for pupils and patients - a far cry from the decades of cuts and closures which left them struggling to cope.

Record police numbers are tackling crime and antisocial behaviour in every community across the country.

We have a more modern constitution that has delivered a new constitutional settlement to Scotland and Wales.

Despite the difficulties, Northern Ireland is more peaceful and more prosperous today than for generations. Our great regional cities are steadily being transformed.

There are now nearly 29,000 more teachers in Britain's schools. School funding for each pupil will be up by over 1000 a year in 2005, compared to 1997.

The hard work of pupils and parents, teachers and teaching assistants is achieving more for Britain than at any time in our past.

We now have the best ever results in primary, at GCSE and A level. Britain's 10-year-olds are ranked third in the world in literacy. The highest ever number of students are being accepted into our universities.

In 2005, we will keep up the pressure to raise standards in schools while we continue to praise the achievement of Britain's pupils and teachers. In 2005, I want to see a new emphasis on discipline and order in the classroom. I want pupils and parents to accept their responsibilities as well as assert their rights.

We have set high standards too, in the health service and made some controversial reforms including making use of private hospitals for NHS patients and setting up new types of clinics and hospitals.

All are paying off for patients, thanks largely to the people who work so hard in the NHS, especially at this time of the year.

As we enter 2005, it is good to know the NHS now carries out 450,000 additional operations every year and there are 77,500 more nurses and over 19,000 more doctors caring for patients than in 1997.

The largest ever hospital building programme is well underway and more than 2,400 GP premises are being improved or refurbished.

Some people are sceptical about the extra resources going into the NHS but the investment, reforms and hard work are now really paying dividends for patients.

The time it takes to see a GP or in casualty or the wait for an operation are all dramatically down. NHS services for cancer and heart disease - Britain's biggest killers - are making the fastest improvements of all.

Cancer death rates in Britain are down by over 12 per cent since 1996, saving something like 33,000 lives a year. Heart disease death rates are down by almost a quarter. In 2005, we will continue both the investment and the radical changes in the NHS. There are always new challenges, for example, MRSA and hospital infections.

And, in 2005, I want to see a real effort to reduce the wait for scans and diagnosis going alongside reductions in the wait for treatment.

But, our ambition, after decades of under-investment, is to deliver a world class health service for our country, where all have the security and opportunity of good health without the fear of having to pay.

I am confident Britain can achieve it.

I know people's confidence in Britain can be diminished by the fear of crime and the uncertainty they feel about asylum and the security of our national borders.

In 2005 we will continue to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour and increase our efforts to ensure the integrity of our borders and remove failed asylum seekers from Britain.

To this end, I want to see the Identity Cards Bill passed by Parliament in 2005. We will also set out further proposals on asylum and immigration in the early New Year.

Britain's economic strength means we can afford to train and recruit the extra police we need to increase security and ease people's fears.

Police numbers are now at record levels - up by 12,500 since 1997 - with nearly 4,200 Police Community Support Officers assisting them. And we've got the biggest ever expansion of Closed Circuit TV underway to ensure we spot, catch and convict the criminals. I know that this is no consolation to any victims of crime, but crime has fallen by 30 per cent since 1997.

Burglary is down by 42 per cent.

Violent crime is down 26 per cent, though changes in recording violent crime has put recorded crime statistics up.

In 2005 we will continue to take the tough measures necessary to secure both Britain's neighbourhoods and Britain's borders.

As we enter a New Year, it is also time to focus on longstanding international issues. It is the time for Britain to give a lead in the search for peace in the Middle East, on Africa and Climate Change, on fair trade liberalisation and economic reform.

During Britain's leadership of the G8 we will put Africa and Climate Change at the top of the world's agenda.

Using our close relationship with the USA we will continue British efforts to secure peaceful conflict resolution in the Middle East as we've been doing in Northern Ireland, taking the advantage of the new opportunity we have to build on the election of a new Palestinian leadership and the implementation of the Israeli disengagement plan to enter a fresh era in which is it is possible to revitalise the Roadmap.

We will also use Britain's place on the United Nations Security Council to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

And let the first ever democratic elections later this month in Iraq be a sign of Britain's determination to counter the destructive threat of terrorism wherever it appears, with the values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law, despite all the difficulties, and sacrifice, that involves.

I again pay tribute to our outstanding armed forces who are helping to make this happen.

So my New Year message is simple: Britain can be confident about the future as long as we continue to work hard to provide security and opportunity for all in this changing world.




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