Express & Star

Liz Truss in her own words: What the new PM really thinks about the West Midlands and its workers

Liz Truss has won the race to become the next Conservative Party leader and, by default, the next Prime Minister.

Last updated
WALSALL COPYRIGHT EXPRESS&STAR TIM THURSFIELD 08/02/19 Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, joins MP's Eddie Hughes and Julian Knight as they try out the saddles at Fairfax Saddles in Bloxwich to champion local businesses.

Nine years after first becoming an MP, the 47-year-old has risen through the ranks of government, holding a number of positions including Environment Secretary, Justice Secretary, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, International Trade Secretary and, most recently, Foreign Secretary.

Ms Truss has visited the Black Country and wider West Midlands region on a number of occasions, including last month during the hustings for the Tory leadership and the 2019 general election.

We look back at what she's said about the region and the plans she's outlined, as well as wider issues such as her opinions on workers and motorways - the stuff that will affect you.

'Champion the vital economic engine'

In a visit to Jaguar Land Rover’s plant alongside the M54 last month, Ms Truss said she was committed to developing the economy of the West Midlands, and was looking forward to working with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.

She said: “The West Midlands has driven our country onwards through its industry and enterprise.

"Today, it is home to some of our most innovative companies, who are creating goods and services desired across the globe, from cars and ceramics to gaming software and fintech products"

“At this time of global economic crisis, we need to champion such businesses to get our economy – and the country – back on track. This will require boldness, not a business-as-usual approach," she continued.

"People in the West Midlands know what they, their family and local community need better than any bureaucrat in Whitehall.

"That is why I will work closely with our local leaders, including the excellent Mayor Andy Street and his team, to deliver on our levelling up agenda.

“I want to empower Andy further, giving him and the West Midlands Combined Authority the powers they need to drive growth across the West Midlands."

'Everyone is looking forward to the world beyond Brexit'

In 2019 Ms Truss, who was then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, visited Fairfax Saddles in Bloxwich as part of a tour of the West Midlands after figures showed it had the highest productivity growth of any English region since 2010.

She said: "The West Midlands is helping lead the way for UK productivity growth and it is the local businesses I met that are crucial to driving growth, providing jobs and boosting opportunity for all.

“We need to support local businesses and those investing skills training to give the next generation the tools they need to succeed, increasing our economy’s productivity potential even further.”

She later added: "I think everyone is looking forward to the world beyond Brexit, how we're going to make sure Britain succeeds."

One month later she mentioned the West Midlands in a speech at Onward UK.

Ms Truss said 2019 was a "massive year" for British politics after the signing of the Brexit deal, and stressed the need to improve transport networks.

"That’s why we have funded Andy Street, the inspirational mayor of the West Midlands, to the tune of £400m to improve and extend the city’s metro. Projects for commuter line improvements and local roads generally have a much higher return on investment than long-distance routes.

"That’s why we created the £2.5bn transforming cities fund – because we know that these are the sorts of projects that make a real difference to productivity and to people’s lives."

Speaking last month while on the Tory leadership campaign trail, she referenced Brexit when she said: "We will harness the huge opportunities offered by Brexit to benefit the region. This includes rolling back EU regulations that restrict our farmers and agriculture industry so they can focus on growing more of their world-class produce."

'Bright ideas for the future of Walsall'

Ahead of the 2017 general election Ms Truss visited Walsall as part of the campaign trail, backing the local candidates to boost the town's economy and national profile.

The then Justice Secretary said they'd had a "very positive reaction doorstepping around Walsall", adding: "We have got two excellent candidates with bright ideas for the future of Walsall, who can offer strong leadership in terms of business ideas and ways to bring Walsall forward doing what Labour have failed to do."

'British workers needed more graft’

While Ms Truss has backed the West Midlands' industry during visits to the region, she's been recorded questioning the work ethic of British workers, saying they needed “more graft” and accusing them of lacking the “skill and application” of foreign rivals.

Last month The Guardian published details of a leaked recording from her time at the Treasury, in which she also tried to explain the difference between London and other UK regions that risked pitting those living in the capital against the rest of the country.

In the leaked recording, Truss began: “I once wrote a book about this which got mischaracterised – British workers produce less per hour than … and that’s a combination of kind of skill and application.”

She went on: “If you look at productivity, it’s very, very different in London from the rest of the country. But basically … this has been a historical fact for decades. Essentially it’s partly a mindset and attitude thing, I think. It’s working culture, basically. If you go to China it’s quite different, I can assure you.”

She later added: “There’s a slight thing in Britain about wanting the easy answers. That’s my reflection on the election and what’s gone before it, and the referendum – we say it’s all Europe that’s causing these huge problems … it’s all these migrants causing these problems. But actually what needs to happen is more … more graft. It’s not a popular message.”

The comments echoed a passage about British workers in a 2012 book she co-authored, which described them as among the "worst idlers in the world".

British workers being among the “worst idlers in the world” in the book Britannia Unchained, which she co-authored in 2012 when she was a new backbench MP seeking to make her mark as a neo-Thatcherite.

Britannia Unchained was co-authored by several Conservative MPs, including Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng.

When asked about it during the first televised head-to-head Tory leadership in July, she replied: “Each author wrote a different chapter. Dominic Raab wrote that chapter – he’s backing Rishi Sunak.”

However Raab later claimed the authors had taken “collective responsibility” for the book, adding: “It’s up to Liz to explain why she’s changed her view.”

'Making sure the West Midlands is connected'

Last month Ms Truss talked about how her government would ensure "the West Midlands is properly connected".

In a column for the Express & Star, she said she would "support Andy Street’s plan to deliver the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro Extension in full - and his efforts to obtain the necessary funds, including via the new devolution deal".

Last month she made headlines when, during a Tory leadership hustings, she said she would "be prepared to look at" scrapping motorway speed limits in response to a question from an audience member.

It's not the first time she's been open to raising the motorway speed limit above the current 70mph.

Speaking to the Centre for Policy Studies think tank at the Tory conference fringe in 2018, she said: “I'd like us to look again at things like our speed limits on the motorway.

“We have often toyed with the idea of raising it to 80mph, why don't we look at that again?”

Speaking afterwards, Ms Truss said hiking the limit would lead to “productivity improvements” because motorists “are wasting less of their lives driving”.

Smart motorways could also disappear under Ms Truss' watch as PM, during hustings over the summer she described them as “an experiment that hasn’t worked”. Currently parts of the M5 and M6 in the Black Country have been, or in the process of being, converted to smart motorway operation, as well as parts of the M42.