Cross vs Sunak: Quizzing the new PM on the NHS, the next election, and his plans for the Midlands

It’s been four days since the government published its autumn budget, and less than a month since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took the reins as Prime Minister.

Today, he paid a visit to the Midlands - so ITV Central sent along correspondent and presenter Charlotte Cross to interview him.

  • Watch the full interview here:

It was a whirlwind of a visit - the media was locked in a small room as the Prime Minister arrived, his press team mysteriously reluctant to allow us to film (or even watch) him walk into the building of Erasmus Darwin Academy in Burntwood, Staffordshire.

We then had a few seconds in a Design Technology class to film him with pupils creating circuit boards, before being whisked to a chemistry class where we were allowed an even smaller allocation of seconds to film him carrying out an experiment.

But then came our interview slot - a five-minute opportunity to question the man now leading the country on just some of the big issues facing the Midlands.

I challenged him on his commitments to the region in terms of its manufacturing and production heritage.

“The West Midlands is at the heart of the innovation story in the United Kingdom - whether it’s the advanced manufacturing we see at Warwick and Coventry, or indeed the phenomenal automotive industry that’s here,” he said.

“And that’s a great example of where we’ll create the jobs of the future. It’s about making sure the government’s investing in R&D, partnering with fantastic companies here in the West Midlands, to develop things like new electric car battery factories, which is something I know people are keen to see here.”

But of course, plans for the UK’s largest such factory - the gigafactory earmarked for the Coventry Airport site - have stalled, with no manufacturer signed up as yet.

Plans for a gigafactory at Coventry Airport have been approved, but no manufacturer has signed up Credit: West Midlands Gigafactory

“The government has something called the Automotive Transformation Fund, which is a pot of money where we can partner with companies to develop those new factories and technologies, and we’d be delighted to keep having those conversations,” he said.

I also confronted him about the problems facing the NHS, specifically when it comes to ambulance handover times and the fact that Shropshire has, on several occasions this year, been in the situation where no ambulances are available anywhere in the county to respond to 999 calls.

More funding and plans to improve staffing were good in the long term, I said, but what immediate actions were his government taking to tackle the issue?

“I think we all recognise that the NHS is grappling with some of the challenges we’re still dealing with from Covid and waiting long for ambulance times is one of the examples of that," he said.

"One of the most important things we need to do is support people to move out of hospitals back into their homes, back into their communities, and that's why the money that we have put in is going to go and support social care.

"And if we can do that, and we can start doing that very quickly, then that will really help alleviate some of the pressure on ambulances waiting outside hospitals.”

The arrival of winter typically increases the pressure on NHS services. Credit: PA

I asked again about the immediacy of his plan: “What about someone - an elderly person, who falls and breaks their hip this coming winter, will your plans help them?”

“It’s absolutely important to me and to the government that people get the healthcare they need. I know the NHS is the country’s most important public service, I come from an NHS family, it’s in my blood," he said. "And that’s why last week in spite of the difficult decisions we had to make elsewhere to tackle inflation, we prioritised putting extra money into the NHS and social care so that people can get the care they need as quickly as possible.”

We touched on what he might say to voters in the Midlands to try to persuade them that the Tories are worth sticking with at the next General Election in 2024, after 14 years of them in charge.

"Do YOU think the Conservative Party is worth sticking with?" I asked.

The answer will surprise no one - of course he does. "We are delivering for the people in the West Midlands," he added; but that's something only the voters can truly decide.

My final question: I asked what one thing the Tories had done that he would change, if he could.

“I don’t think people are interested in the past - what we need to do is look forward,” he said.

But with the challenges we discussed today in the Midlands being mirrored up and down the country in the present, the view ahead is far from straightforward, if the new PM’s promises are ever going to become reality.