Let the real work begin: What Liz Truss as Prime Minister could mean for the biggest challenges facing the UK

Following what she described as “one of the longest job interviews in history”, Liz Truss today took over from Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

From spiralling energy costs at the heart of an ever-growing cost of living crisis, to NHS backlogs, and continued ‘threats’ to the Union, she will have one of the most challenging in-trays of any new PM, and will be expected to hit the ground running.

Read on as the Brands2Life Public Affairs’ team considers the challenges facing Prime Minister Truss, and how she may navigate the choppy waters ahead.

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis

The Conservative leadership campaign was dominated by talk of the support the incoming Prime Minister would provide to the public to help cope with rising energy costs and rampant inflation. Truss has been clear; we can expect an emergency budget within weeks of her entering Number 10. Her goal is to stimulate economic growth in order to fund public services and the NHS, all while putting money back into people’s pockets, by immediately reversing the National Insurance rise and potentially a freeze on energy bills.

Aside from the raft of fiscal policies Truss and her team have floated, she has also set her sights on monetary policy; she has called for the Bank of England to do more to tackle inflation, claiming “we haven’t been tough enough on the monetary supply” during a recent leadership debate.

Truss has already been criticised for the ‘fairness’ of her approach; the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that the reverse to the National Insurance rise would provide households on the lowest incomes with £7.66 compared to more than £1,800 for the households on the highest incomes. She, however, has been clear she disagrees with viewing any such support through the lens of redistribution, suggesting it is “fair” to give higher earners more money back through tax cuts.

All of this is of course set against the backdrop of the threat of continuing industrial action across a range of sectors – disputes that unlikely to be resolved soon.  Although they look set to be an ongoing headache for the incoming Prime Minister, they may also offer an opportunity to show grit in the face of a challenging standoff.

Clearing the COVID-19 backlog

During the campaign, Liz Truss stated that the NHS will be in her top three priorities and has committed to prioritising social care, diverting a greater share of healthcare spending towards it.

In an effort to clear the backlog, she has said GP services need to be more accessible to reduce the pressures on hospital services and she would like to encourage doctors who came out of retirement to help the NHS during the pandemic “to come back into the profession”.

But with constant headlines about ambulance waiting times, staff burn out and underfunding, concern is mounting that it will not take much to tip the health service into crisis in the winter months.

Maintaining the union

Truss has described herself as a “child of the union”, but this broader family might provide her worst headache as Prime Minister.

The DUP continues to declare that it won’t form a power-sharing executive until the Northern Ireland Protocol is re-negotiated with the EU. Truss has been clear that she is determined to push the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through parliament, despite opposition from the DUP. Although she has also acknowledged that addressing the DUP’s issues with the protocol need to be prioritised.

Meanwhile, October will be a key moment for Scotland, as the UK Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the Scottish Government has the power to hold the referendum without Westminster’s consent. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are continuing to press for an agreement to hold a second independence referendum in 2023.

Truss’ position on Scottish Independence is crystal clear – she described Nicola Sturgeon as an “attention seeker” during her leadership campaign, and it has been reported that Truss’s team is considering introducing legislation that would require more than half of the total Scottish electorate to vote for independence, rather than just a majority of those who vote.

Uniting the Conservative party

As well as the critical national issues which must be addressed, and following an at times brutal leadership campaign, Truss will also have to tackle perhaps her greatest challenge – how to unite the Conservative Party. Any continued infighting could lead to bleak results at the next election, particularly as the party’s position in the polls dropped significantly behind Labour over the summer; the Conservatives were 15 points behind during the leadership campaign, Labour’s biggest lead in almost a decade.

As a new Government takes shape over the coming days, there will be new agendas, priorities and policy aims   driving the day. For businesses and organisations concerned about the economic or policy agenda, now is the time to engage with the incoming Government, to offer your ideas and expertise, as it grapples with the pressing issues outlined here, and beyond.

If you’d like to have an informal chat with the Brands2Life Public Affairs team about how the new Government may impact your business, and what opportunities there are for engagement, please get in touch via [email protected].