Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Source: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

PM Rishi Sunak first announced the national service proposal last month

National service for school leavers, tougher penalties for assaulting shopworkers and higher business rates for online retail are among the pledges in the Conservative Party manifesto.

A Conservative win in the general election next month will result in a year’s national service becoming compulsory for 18-year-olds, according to the manifesto, published on Tuesday. They will get the choice of either a full-time paid placement in the armed forces or cyber defence, or a civic role involving 25 days of volunteering in the community.

The policy – first announced by PM Rishi Sunak last month – is part of a plan to boost the opportunities of young people, which also includes creating 100,000 more apprenticeships in England every year by the end of next parliament. The funding will come from “curbing the number of poor-quality university degrees that leave young people worse off”.

Among tax pledges, the party has said it will take 2p off employee National Insurance by reducing it to 6% by April 2027. It will also abolish the main rate of self-employed National Insurance by the end of the next parliament, according to the document.

Meanwhile, the national living wage will be maintained at two-thirds of median earnings in each year of the next parliament. Based on current forecasts it will rise to about £13 an hour, up from £11.44 currently.

Business rates

For businesses, the Conservatives have pledged to ease the burden of business rates on the high street, leisure and hospitality by gradually increasing the tax for online shopping warehouses. 

It follows proposals from Labour and the Liberal Democrats to scrap business rates in their current form.

BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said: “With business rates now at a record high of 54.6p in the pound, the Conservative promise to ‘continue to ease the burden of business rates’ for businesses on the high street will ring hollow to many retailers.

“Despite previous promises to reform the broken business rates system, we continue to see empty shops around the country that have fallen prey to sky-high rates. And while the full details of the proposals to offset high street business rates by raising rates for warehousing would need to be seen, it is hard to see it as a viable solution given the wide range of retailers that sell goods online as well as from stores.”


A clampdown on crime will include tougher sentences for assaults against retail workers. It comes after planned legislation to make assaulting a shopworker a standalone offence in England Wales was shelved with the dissolution of parliament in May.

Dickinson said: “The Conservatives have listened to the concerns of the retail industry, and we support the calls for new measures against those who assault retail workers. We hope this will take the form of the standalone offence that was part of the Criminal Justice Bill that unfortunately fell when the election was announced.”


The Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which was shelved at the same time as the Criminal Justice Bill, will also be revived, and brought forward in the first King’s Speech, according to the manifesto. The bill aims to ban anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes.

In other health pledges, a Conservative government will push through legislation to restrict advertising of products high in fat, sugar or salt, and “gather new evidence on the impact of ultra-processed food”.

The Tories are also planning to put a legal cap on migration, which will fall every year, with parliament voting on the level, while also raising the salary threshold for a skilled worker visa automatically with inflation.

In farming, pledges include increasing the UK-wide budget for the sector by £1bn and ensuring it rises by inflation in every year of the next parliament.

The BRC’s Dickinson said: “After 14 years in government, the Conservative Party are aware of the major issues facing the retail industry. Unfortunately, this manifesto fails to take the bull by the horns, leaving many ongoing challenges, from business rates to apprenticeships, without clear solutions.”