By the time this article goes to print, we should know which two candidates will be placed before the ‘selectorate’ of the Conservative Party who get to decide who our next Prime Minister will be.
It’s a race that has become so toxic that the two leading candidates have pulled out of Sky TV’s live debate because they felt the previous two debates were harming their party. Those of us who don’t get a say on the outcome but watched anyway were transfixed at a group of people trying to run away as fast as they could from any personal or policy association with a Prime Minister that they were all happy to enthusiastically back only a matter of days earlier.
Leaving aside the rancour which has enveloped the process, the next Prime Minister will have a pretty full in-tray of matters which require urgent action and direction from the get-go.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the cost-of-living crisis. It’s already bad and is set to get worse. Last week, personal finance expert Martin Lewis warned the energy price cap was set to soar by 64% in October – on top of the earlier increase this year – with a further increase predicted in January. If this comes to pass, it will heap huge pressure on families and householders on already tight budgets because of the increase in the cost of groceries and other goods.
Which leads us onto inflation, at 9.1% for the 12 months to May and increasing. While one candidate for PM thought control of monetary policy was within their gift rather than resting as it has since 1997 with the Bank of England, there are some actions government can take to help people cope with the highest and fastest rate of inflation for 40 years, such as meaningful financial support. Even with the limited budget it is given, the Scottish Government targeted over £100 million to counteract the impact of UK austerity in 2019 alone.
There’s also the impact of Brexit. Scottish Government modelling demonstrates that real GDP in Scotland could be 4.5% lower by 2040 because of the Brexit impact on immigration. We’re already seeing fewer people wanting to either come to the UK to work, or those who were already here deciding to go somewhere that they can continue to access the benefits of EU membership. Locally, the effects of this shortage of labour is still regularly raised with me by farmers and businesses.
Fuel costs, whilst dipping by a few pence in recent days, remain painfully high. Global factors such as the war in Ukraine don’t help as traders worry over future supplies, but the slide of the pound against the US dollar is responsible for at least some of the current cost – around 4% according to the RAC – and every litre of fuel at current prices sees around 90p of the cost going to the UK Treasury.
Consider also the Treasury’s failure to properly promote investment in our offshore oil and gas to meet domestic demand. The revenue generated extracting the raw product from the ground, and the tax levied at the pumps means the Treasury is raking it in. It’s time to see a recalibration so people can afford to fill their car – still essential in rural areas – to get to work to earn enough to pay their bills.
The new PM – whoever that turns out to be - is going to have their work cut out