I want to begin this New Year's message by thanking those people in the public services unable to spend the New Year holiday with their families. This government believes in public services and is committed to putting in the investment and reform they need. But we know that nothing we plan is possible without the skill and dedication of the people who work in them.
I also want to thank the thousands of armed servicemen and women who have been away from their families for Christmas and the New Year. As recent events have shown, our armed services have a deserved reputation as being among the best in the world and the whole country owes them a huge debt of gratitude.
As the international community looks back on one year, and forward to the next, it can be immensely proud of the way it responded to the attack upon humanity that took place on 11 September, and the UK can be proud of the role we are playing on all fronts, military, diplomatic, humanitarian.
A huge amount has been achieved. The case against Bin Laden and the Al Qaida network was carefully and patiently put together. Their guilt established, an ultimatum was issued to the Taliban. Once it was ignored, the US-led coalition put together a targeted bombing campaign, first destroying the terrorist training camps, then the Taliban's military infrastructure, then hitting their front lines before, more swiftly than we had dared imagine, the Taliban fell.
The joy with which their fall was greeted nailed the lie that ours is a war against Islam. It showed, on the contrary, that the long-suffering people of Afghanistan also wanted rid of the Taliban and the terrorists they harboured for so long.
The formation of, and the transition to, an interim government has been swift and extraordinarily smooth given the complex and volatile reality of Afghan politics.
On the humanitarian front, despite the obstructions and the difficulties, aid agencies and governments have done a remarkable job in getting help to millions of people who need it.
And around the world governments, including our own, have been strengthening their laws in relation to the operation and financing of terrorism and have sent the most powerful possible signal to terror groups everywhere: the world will not tolerate terrorism as a factor in international affairs.
So there has been huge progress but the job is not yet done. I have always been clear there will be two phases to this campaign. First, dealing with Al Qaida and Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and then the wider war on terrorism. Many thousands of terrorists have been trained in the terror camps of Afghanistan and have long since left there. They continue to pose a risk, and the international community must continue to be vigilant and determined in rooting them out and shutting down their networks. We will be. Equally, today I restate our commitment to help Afghanistan in the long term and not to make the mistakes of the past and walk away.
September 11 was an act of evil. In its response, the international community has shown that by acting together with a sense of shared values and shared mission, it can be a force for good. Now is the time for a concerted effort to bring peace to the Middle East.
In playing the role we have, I believe Britain has shown that in pursuit of a modern foreign policy we do not need to choose between Europe and America. We are stronger in Europe because of our closeness to the US. We are stronger with the US because of our growing strength in Europe.
The New Year sees the introduction of the European single currency. With so much of our trade and so many of our jobs tied up in business with the rest of Europe, it is massively in our interests that the Euro succeeds. In any event, it is vital since so many companies will trade in it and it will affect our own economy, that we are prepared for it.
It remains the government's policy to join the Euro provided that the five economic tests we have laid down are met and the British people give their consent in a referendum.
The arrival of the Euro comes at a very difficult time for the global economy, with the world's three largest economic areas - the US, Japan and Europe - all slowing down at the same time, world trade growing at its lowest rate for a generation and unemployment rising across the globe.
Because we delivered economic stability in our first term, through Bank of England independence, tough new rules on Government borrowing, and reduced spending on debt and unemployment benefit, Britain is better placed than many other countries to weather any economic storm. Many commentators have said that in common with last year Britain will in 2002 be the fastest growing of the world's leading economies. But there is no room for complacency. In today's increasingly inter-dependent world we cannot insulate ourselves entirely from economic developments in other countries.
So the Government's focus this year must be on maintaining this hard won economic stability and using it as the platform to enable us to reverse years of under investment and so further improve our public services.
At the General Election, the British people chose long-term investment in our public services over short-term tax cuts and I am in no doubt that was the right choice for Britain. In every public service we have worked our plans for investment and reform for the next ten years. I have confidence in those plans. Investment will be made year after year - and will be sustained whatever the difficult decisions needed to do so.
We are increasing public spending on health faster than any major country in Europe, and we are seeing the largest sustained period of investment in education for a generation. But investment must be matched by reform or it is wasted and this coming year reform will be happening through the public services. Reform to secondary schools, reform throughout the NHS, reform to the police service, reform to our criminal courts, reform to the way the railways are run, reform to higher education. The public sector undergoing an unprecedented amount of reform to revive it, set it free, from unnecessary constraints. And that reform is often unsettling but I believe out of it will come a new sense of public service ethos where staff and consumers are proud of what our public services can deliver.
The signs of improvement are there. I believe it is now widely accepted that in our primary schools, for example, which we made a first-term priority, real progress has been made. Parents, pupils and teachers can see it in the new buildings, the smaller class sizes, the new books, the new teachers, the better results - the best ever GCSE results, the highest ever number of students applying to university.
On those foundations now, in our second term, we are putting the same kind of focus and effort into driving up standards in secondary schools, modernising the principle of comprehensive education to bring out the best in every school and every pupil and so fulfil our basic belief that everyone should have the chance to make the most of their potential.
And though we all hear and read plenty of bad stories about the NHS, for the vast majority the NHS provides high quality care whether through a GP or local hospital or through the new services like NHS Direct or the new Walk-In Centres. We have 27,000 more nurses than in 1997, 6,700 more doctors. Ten major new hospitals have been opened and others are about to be. As I travel the country, I see good and bad in the NHS. Indeed, I could take people to different parts of the health service where investment plus reform is helping provide care as good as anything on offer anywhere in the world. The challenge is to raise everyone to the standard of the best. I know there is a way to go but I am clear about how to get there.
There remains huge frustration that some of our public services, particularly the railways, and the transport system in general. I am not going to pretend that we can put our transport system right quickly, particularly at a time when more people want to travel and use public transport than ever before. It will take time. It will take sustained investment and a constructive long term partnership between the public and private sectors. In the last parliament we put in place a comprehensive ten year plan for transport to provide an additional ??180 billion of investment for roads, buses, the railways and the tube in the period ahead. Over time that will start to make a difference.
But money alone is not enough. We also need reform to ensure the right structures are in place. There is no doubt that the privatised railway system we inherited was too complex and fragmented. Following Railtrack's problems we now need to put that right. Proposals are being put together for a new, simpler, less bureaucratic system which will provide managers with stronger incentives to put the travelling public first. We are also determined in our plans to modernise the Tube, again a large and sustained increased investment to be taken forward by a public-private partnership that would ensure the money is spent properly.
On crime, ours was the first government since the War to go into an election with crime lower at the end of the parliament than at the beginning. This year police numbers rose by their largest amount for 20 years. We have halved the time it takes to get persistent young offenders to court. But the national statistics mean very little if your own home has been burgled or if you are a pensioner afraid to go out because of fear of crime. We have to invest more in our police - which we are - and we have to reform policing and the criminal justice system - which we are. This year we will bring forward the detailed proposals for a complete overhaul of the criminal courts and modernisation of the current regime for sentencing of the guilty. There should be tougher sentences for persistent and dangerous offenders and a greater focus on how to prevent re-offending. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime: it remains the right approach.
We must, as a country, decide what kind of society we want to be. For my part, I am in no doubt that it should be a society founded on rights and responsibilities, in which people accept more willingly their obligations to others, not just the rights and benefits they enjoy themselves.
Deep and often difficult social questions to do with issues of class, race, faith, community, are an important part of political debate. We are an economically powerful, technologically advanced, relatively prosperous country with historically low levels of unemployment. Yet if they are the good symptoms of a modern society, we see too many bad symptoms as well. Drugs and drug related crime, mindless violence, graffiti and vandalism, a basic lack of respect for fellow citizens and the environment scar too many of our communities. It is time for the communities to fight back and for the decent values of the majority to prevail.
So this year, as every year in government, huge challenges for us and for the country. Seeing the campaign against terrorism through to its end. Maintaining, whatever the economic concerns around the world, our basic hard-won economic stability. Improving productivity, matching the unemployed to the job vacancies that still exist, continuing to bear down on child and pensioner poverty, continuing to improve our public services, building on the progress we have made in helping to shape a new agenda for Europe. Continuing to lead the way on third world debt, and a new deal for Africa.
Big challenges. But on our strong economic foundations, with proper investment now going into our public services, with the right arguments about the type of society we want, with Britain growing stronger in the world, with the right values for today, I am confident that we are well placed to meet them.