Response to key challenges will define new PM's tenure - and West Midlands has its own demands

In 48 hours the identity of Britain's next Prime Minister will be known – and whoever moves in at Number 10 faces a series of monumental challenges.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will find out on Monday if they've won the race to become Tory leader and Prime Minister
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will find out on Monday if they've won the race to become Tory leader and Prime Minister

Getting to grips with the cost of living crisis will be top of the pile, with household bills set to soar again next month when the energy cap is raised.

But while this and issues including the ongoing conflict in Ukraine will understandably be prioritised by the new PM, the Black Country, Staffordshire and Shropshire have their own lists of demands that will need attending to.

Liz Truss looks the likely winner over Rishi Sunak once the votes of around 175,000 Conservative Party members have been counted.

She has said she will announce an emergency budget if she becomes PM, which is expected to include tax cuts and a reversal of the planned 1.25 per cent hike in National Insurance.

In her leadership campaign she pledged to put the West Midlands at the heart of the country's economic revival, recognising the region's importance as a potential driver of growth.

But after being hit so badly by the pandemic, it will take the right combination of policy and investment to get things back on track.

Should Ms Truss win the election, local leaders will be keen to see her put her money where her mouth is.

In the Black Country, levelling up bids totalling hundreds of millions have been submitted, with council bosses viewing the funding as vital when it comes to regenerating town and city centres.

Levelling up funding is also a key issue in Shropshire, where four bids totalling £104m are on the table. The issue was the centre of a blue-on-blue row earlier this year when council chiefs said they felt "overlooked and completely undervalued" after missing out on government cash.

Ms Truss will also be expected to make good on her pledge to back the region's expansive transport plans.

She has already vowed to ensure the Wednesbury-Brierley Hill Metro line is completed in full. However, leaders will be keen to see the progression of other costly road and rail projects.

These include the Shrewsbury North West relief road, which is facing increased costs due to delays, and improvements to rail services on the Shrewsbury-Black Country-Birmingham route.

Ms Truss's plans for NHS reform will also be closely monitored in a region where ambulance delays are off the charts and securing a GP appointment has become a battle in itself.

How the next Government deals with the planned re-organisation of Shropshire's hospitals will also come under the microscope.

Meanwhile, a strongly pro-Brexit region will be keen to see how the new PM seizes the opportunities provided by our departure from the EU.

Clamping down on illegal immigration will be a necessity, while sorting out the country's broken asylum system is another pressing requirement.

Addressing all of these challenges will undoubtedly help the PM with an issue further down the line – defending seats targeted by other parties at the next general election.

With the Tories lagging behind Labour in the polls, holding onto hard-won 'red wall' seats in places such as West Bromwich and Wolverhampton is likely to be no easy task.

It will only be achieved if genuine progress is made over the next 18 months.

Challenges facing the new Prime Minister

The new occupant of No 10 will face an in-tray piled high with daunting challenges that could define their premiership.

Here are some of the key issues that will need to be addressed by Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak:

The economy

The Bank of England has warned that inflation is set to soar to more than 13 per cent and the economy will be plunged into the longest recession since the financial crisis. Interest rates were increased by the Bank from 1.25 per cent to 1.75 per cent, the biggest increase for 27 years, in August, something that will add to pressure on household finances for mortgage-holders. Gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the size of the economy, is forecast to shrink in every three-month period from October to the start of 2024, falling by as much as 2.1 per cent, the Bank said.

Cost of living

The grim state of the economy is already having an impact on consumers, with prices rising, average annual energy bills going up by 80 per cent in October from £1,971 to £3,549 and widespread anger over wages failing to keep pace with the increase in inflation. Industrial unrest has already hit the transport networks, criminal barristers in England and Wales are going on strike, and further action could be taken by public sector workers including nurses, teachers and civil servants.


The UK’s commitment to supporting Ukraine is expected to continue, but after six months of the war with Russia there is a risk that fatigue will set in among Western allies. The new PM will have to play a leading role in ensuring the allies maintain military and diplomatic support for Kyiv at a time when the conflict is pushing up gas prices and causing economic problems around Europe.


The sweeping review of foreign and defence policy carried out under Boris Johnson labelled China a “systemic competitor”, while Nato’s new strategic concept has branded Beijing a “challenge” to “our interests, security and values”. But China’s economic clout means it will be necessary to balance trade benefits with caution over Beijing’s political motivations. The risk of tensions between China and Taiwan boiling over will also feature highly in the new prime minister’s foreign policy concerns.

Health and social care

Covid backlogs, record waiting periods in A&E and unprecedented pressures on ambulance services are just some of the challenges in the NHS in England facing the new prime minister. They will also have to oversee the introduction of the new social care system from October 2023, which will see nobody pay more than £86,000 for the personal care they need, while also coping with an ageing population and rising demand.


Boris Johnson may have campaigned on the slogan “Get Brexit done” but the reality is a long way from that. The next prime minister will risk further straining relations with Brussels by pushing ahead with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, allowing the UK Government to override elements of the UK-EU deal.

Meanwhile, the desire to take advantage of Brexit opportunities by tearing up Brussels-inspired red tape could boost business but also risks erecting further barriers with the UK’s nearest trade partner.

Climate change

The spike in gas prices has increased attention on the way the UK’s energy is generated and meeting the commitment on net zero emissions by 2050 will also demand major changes. Support for renewables and nuclear power are seen as ways to both improve energy security and meet commitments to reduce carbon emissions - but Tory opposition to onshore wind means that one of the cheapest forms of generation is effectively off the table.

The new prime minister will also face the challenge of improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock and supporting the transition to electric vehicles.


The number of people risking the dangerous crossing of the English Channel has already hit more than 23,000 and is on course to beat 2021’s record number, despite efforts to crack down on the problem.

But as well as coping with the small boats issue, the new prime minister will also have to deal with industry demands for more migrant workers to be given visas to come to the UK, with labour shortages one of the main concerns voiced by employers across a range of sectors.

Reuniting the party

The leadership contest has seen weeks of vicious “blue on blue” infighting involving some of the party’s biggest names.

Finding a way to end the enmity among senior figures who have been tearing strips off one another will be a challenge, as will managing the bruised egos and simmering resentment among those who miss out on a seat at the Cabinet table in the new administration.

Boris Johnson

He may now have more time to spend writing his long-awaited Shakespeare book, but, like Banquo’s ghost, Mr Johnson has the potential to haunt his successor.

Never one to avoid the limelight, Mr Johnson has made little effort to conceal his resentment at being forced out of office and could make life very difficult for his replacement in Downing Street.

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