PRIME Minister Rishi Sunak has been on the campaign trail in Devon.

On Wednesday, May 29 on a quick stop to a high-tech business near Honiton, supporting Conservative candidate Simon Jupp in the new constituency of Honiton and Sidmouth, Mr Sunak claimed to be ignoring opinion polls that point to a Labour victory in the general election and is “changing minds with his bold ideas”.

The constituency is a battleground in which either a Tory or a Lib Dem MP from the previous parliament will lose their job.

Mr Jupp, who held the former East Devon seat, is being challenged by Richard Foord, who was the representative for Tiverton and Honiton.

Both of those seats have been abolished as the Boundary Commission has attempted to even up voters in each area by creating a number of new constituencies in Devon.

Previously the two seats were Conservative strongholds, and very rarely needed heavyweight cabinet support.

That changed when former Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish resigned after a scandal, paving the way for Richard Foord to overtake his 24,000 majority.

And the creation of Honiton and Sidmouth, Tiverton and Minehead, and Exmouth and Exeter East makes predictions harder to make.

On a day trip to Devon and Cornwall, Mr Sunak told reporters that his plans for a new national service and 100,000 new apprenticeships, as well as tax cuts for working people and the elderly “will transform the country and deliver a secure future for everyone”.

He was speaking at a visit to defence vehicle designers Supacat at Dunkeswell near Honiton.

He said he was sorry for the difficult time that people in Brixham have experienced because of a bacterial outbreak in the water supply and would be holding South West Water to account.

Mr Sunak said the level of discharge into seas and rivers had been unacceptable but 100 per cent of storm overflows are now monitored.

“Record amounts of investment are being spent on upgrading water treatment facilities, including a £30 million upgrade that South West Water are putting in thanks to East Devon MP Simon Jupp’s campaigning in Sidmouth,” he said.

“We are being incredibly tough on enforcement, giving the regulator the power to levy unlimited fines and penalties on water companies not fulfilling their obligations and that also applies to things like bonus and dividend payments.

“I know it’s been a difficult time in Brixham for everyone and I am sorry about that.

“Where water companies fail in their obligations they will be held to account and that is what will happen in this case and what we are doing now is getting support to the people who need it.”

The Prime Minister also explained how he wanted young people to be able to afford their own home and that the government had been investing in local hospitals and creating diagnostics centres in Devon to reduce waiting lists. 

The son of a GP and pharmacist, Mr Sunak said he wished he had made more progress on getting the NHS waiting lists down, but strikes by health workers had made that very difficult.

Reducing waiting lists was one of the Prime Minister’s five pledges for 2023, and he has admitted the target wasn’t met.

However, speaking in Devon, he said his party had reached an agreement with NHS staff over pay and conditions, with the exception of junior doctors despite them being offered a pay deal that he claims was worth a 10 per cent increase.

“It’s extremely disappointing and I do not want anyone to doubt my commitment to the NHS,” he said. 

Mr Sunak promised that pensioners won’t pay tax on their state pension if the Conservatives are re-elected, and the party will scrap some university degrees which are “not working” and put more money into apprenticeships.

“We are one week into the election campaign and we are already putting bold ideas on the table,” he said. “Labour have no ideas and no plan”.

On the lack of local affordable housing the Prime Minister said: “I want every young person to have the opportunity of a secure future, that includes being able to buy their own home because it is a magical thing and the type of country I believe in is one where those aspirations can be realised.

“That is why apprenticeships are so important, not everybody needs to go to university and there are university degrees that are letting young people down. We will take that money and use it to create 100,000 new apprenticeships instead and give young people opportunities to succeed.”

A national service for 18-year-olds with teenagers required to either volunteer in their local community or join the Armed Forces would be one of the “most extraordinary things that happens to our country with the skills and opportunities it will provide,” that would foster a culture of service, make society more cohesive and strengthen resilience.

Mr Sunak said the reaction to the idea among the public had been “really positive”.

The general election is to be held on Thursday, July 4.

By Alison Stephenson