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September 29, 2022updated 27 Jan 2023 7:12am

What local BBC radio presenters asked Liz Truss in her bruising media rounda

By Bron Maher

Prime Minister Liz Truss spent Thursday morning running the gauntlet of sharp questioning from eight BBC local radio hosts.

Over one hour, Truss encountered presenters in Leeds, Norfolk, Kent, Lancashire, Nottingham, Teesside, Bristol and Stoke.

The local journalists quizzed the Prime Minister on a gamut of topics both national and local – from whether pension funds were safe after Wednesday’s financial turmoil to sea life deaths in the North Sea.

Press Gazette rounds up below what local radio hosts asked Truss and what they managed to get out of a Prime Minister who tried her best to stick to a set of pre-planned answers.

[Read more: The local angle – What regional journalists say about covering Truss and Sunak]

In a statement to Press Gazette, BBC England director Jason Horton said: “Our presenters and journalists asked the questions our audiences wanted answers to. We are proud of our teams and the unique understanding they have of our listeners and their concerns.

“It is imperative that we reflect the voices of local people in the communities we broadcast from, hold those in power to account and that’s something we did this morning, something we do every day.”

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Rima Ahmed, BBC Radio Leeds: What would you say to this food bank user?

“I am really glad that you’re here… because since Friday, and the Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, the pound has dropped to a record low, the IMF has said that you should re-evaluate your policies, and the Bank of England has had to spend £65bn to prop up the markets because of what they describe as a material risk. Where’ve you been?”

Truss told Ahmed her government had to take decisive action and people could have had to pay energy bills of up to £6,000.

“That was before the mini-budget though, Prime Minister – I’m talking about the last four days, where have you been? Because we’ve not heard from you in the last four days.”

Truss said “I’m here today on Radio Leeds talking to you,” before again emphasising her government had to take controversial and difficult decisions.

Later in the interview, Ahmed played Truss a clip Radio Leeds recorded with Lee, a man they encountered at a food bank in West Yorkshire.

“I’m just at the amount where I can’t claim any help whatsoever,” Lee said in the clip. “And then you get the small pay rises and then everything just goes up.

“Not only am I working harder than ever at work, prices of everything are going up – electric and gas bills are gonna go through the roof. So I have a wife who suffers with mental illnesses as it is – it is, it’s quite hard. You try to cope on the outside, but yeah, not really well, to be honest with you.”

Ahmed asked Truss what she would say to people like Lee, to which Truss said her actions would reduce inflation and help people like him over the long-term.

Ahmed thanked Truss at the end of the interview, aptly noting to listeners: “lots of other local radio stations waiting to have their turn to ask some questions of the Prime Minister.”

Chris Goreham, BBC Radio Norfolk: Are you going to fix your constituency’s hospital?

BBC Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham chose to ask Truss about an issue affecting her own constituency.

“Speaking of investment in our county, you are the South West Norfolk MP, and in the constituency next to yours there’ll be lots of people who’ll be going to work for the NHS in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital today and they’re working in an environment where the roof is held up by, at the last count, 1,500 props.

“Can you guarantee that King’s Lynn will get a new hospital?”

Truss said as MP she had “been lobbying very hard to see improvements at the Queen Elizabeth and I’ve seen for myself the very difficult situation with the roof. And of course, we have a new Health Secretary, Therese Coffey. I do hope she’ll visit the Queen Elizabeth Hospital soon to see the situation there.”

Goreham responded: “She’ll be the fourth Health Secretary to have visited. When is it going to happen?”

Truss did not give a date: “Well I hope that she will be the one that delivers.”

Anna Cookson, BBC Radio Kent: Here’s what the listeners are saying

Anna Cookson, from BBC Radio Kent, opted to read Truss what her listeners were texting in.

“Lots from my listeners this morning: Carrie in Birchington says: ‘What on earth were you thinking? The country was already in a state of recession.’ Another says: ‘How can we ever trust the Conservatives with our economy again?’ And Lydia says: ‘Are you ashamed of what you’ve done?’ 

“Are you?”

Truss did not respond directly, saying “I think we have to remember what situation this country was facing. We were going into the winter with people expected to face fuel bills of up to £6,000 pounds”.

“Another question from a listener, then: ‘What level of suffering is acceptable to ordinary households in order to achieve your perceived goal of growth sometime in the future?’

“Are you going to reverse what was announced in the mini-budget in order to at least make things better, now, for my listeners who are not sleeping at night?”

Truss said she did not accept the premise of the question, prompting Cookson to interject: “You’re going to have to accept it.”

In a final question, on small boat arrivees across the Channel, Truss confirmed to Cookson that her government was pushing ahead with the Rwanda migration.

Graham Liver, BBC Radio Lancashire: Fracking

Graham Liver, at BBC Radio Lancashire, made fracking the central focus of his interview with the Prime Minister. 

“We’re the only area of the country that has actually done it. And it caused earthquakes – people’s houses shook. Why do you think it’s safe to continue? Because none of the science has changed.”

Truss came repeatedly back to the theme of getting local consent: “Fracking is carried out perfectly safely in various parts of the world, and the Business Secretary will make sure that any fracking that takes place is safe. But it’s very important for me as Prime Minister, that any fracking has local community consent.”

Picking up the local consent point, Liver asked: “What does that look like? Scott Benton, the Conservative MP for Blackpool South, in a tweet, says that he believes that people in Blackpool South do not support fracking.”

Liver played Truss a clip in which Tory MP for Fyld Mark Menzies asked how the consent-granting process would go ahead; Truss said the Energy Secretary would lay out in more detail in future what that looks like, “But it does mean making sure there is local support for going ahead.”

“It sounds like you don’t know!”

On the question of how successful fracking has been in other countries, Liver said: “In America they do it in the middle of nowhere. Do you actually know where Preston New Road is, where they have been fracking?”

“Well, I don’t think I’ve been to that site in the past,” Truss said, to which Liver responded: “Shouldn’t you?”

Sarah Julian, BBC Radio Nottingham: ‘Reverse Robin Hood’

BBC Radio Nottingham presenter Sarah Julian kicked off her eight minutes with the Prime Minister by asking: “People like it when politicians are honest. Why don’t you just hold your hands up and say: ‘This is a mess, we got it wrong, and we’re going to do something different.’?”

Truss again emphasised her belief things would have been worse had the government not acted.

“The choices you’ve made in this mini-budget is going to benefit far greater those who are very, very well off – if you make a million, you’re going to benefit £55,000 a year from the tax cut. On £20,000, like a teaching assistant or a nurse, £157. A couple of people have said to me, here in Nottingham, this is like a reverse Robin Hood.”

“That simply isn’t true,” Truss argued, saying the emphasis of the mini-budget was tackling energy costs.

Julian came repeatedly back to that theme, asking later: “You won’t answer, Prime Minister, our this question about fairness. It’s the question that all our listeners have been asking me this morning, about fairness, in these tax proposals that you’ve made.”

“It’s not fair to have a recession,” Truss said. “It’s not fair to have a town where you’re not getting the investment. It’s not fair if we don’t get high-paying jobs in the future because we’ve got the highest tax burden in 70 years. That’s what’s not fair.”

“And is there any evidence anywhere in the world that cutting the taxes of the wealthiest people is going to help inequality and help people in Mansfield get richer?”, the presenter asked.

“There is plenty of evidence that if you have very high taxes, they lead to lower economic growth. There is plenty of evidence of that.”

Amy Oakden, BBC Radio Tees: Child poverty and sea life

After grilling the Prime Minister on Wednesday’s financial chaos – focusing particularly on the threat to pension funds – Radio Tees’ Amy Oakden asked Truss about child poverty in the North East.

“Your government has been in charge for 12 years. In that time, child poverty has increased in the North East. What are you doing about that?”

“Well the number one thing we need to do to help deal with the issues that families face is to help more people get into work and create those high paid jobs,” Truss said.

“And that is exactly what our mini-budget is about. It’s about getting Britain moving. It’s about getting the infrastructure built. And it’s about attracting investment around our country, including into the North East.”

Truss was less prepared for Oakden’s next question: “We’ve had lots of questions in about the sea life deaths on the North East coast. Are you committed to another investigation and really sorting that problem?”

After a pause, Truss said “I would need to look into that issue, to be honest… I will certainly be raising that with the Environment Secretary.”

James Hanson, BBC Radio Bristol: Script-reading

BBC Radio Bristol’s James Hanson opened his window with Truss commenting that since the Prime Minister had taken charge, “It’s hard to know what’s fallen more, the value of the pound or the Tory ratings.”

Apparently up to speed on the interviews earlier in the hour, Hanson took issue with one of Truss’ familiar answers on the price guarantee and reducing the tax burden.

“Prime Minister, with respect, that is the same scripted answer you’ve given to every BBC local radio station this morning.”

Pressed on the significance of the Bank of England stepping into the market the day earlier, Truss emphasised that the war in Ukraine had put many countries under pressure.

“Yeah, but this isn’t Putin! This isn’t just about Putin. I mean, your Chancellor opened up the stable door the other day and spooked the horses so badly you can almost see the economy being dragged behind them!”

“This is about Putin and the war in Ukraine-“

“So the Bank of England’s intervention yesterday was the fault of Vladimir Putin, was it?”

Truss did not directly respond.

John Acres, BBC Radio Stoke: No U-turn

BBC Radio Stoke host John Acres also called upon questions from his listeners, kicking off his interview with Truss with: “Have you taken the keys to the country and crashed the economy?” (Truss said she had “taken decisive action” to prevent the situation getting worse.)

Acres attempted repeatedly to press Truss on whether the financial turmoil the day before was an unforced error.

“People are worried about their mortgages and worried about – when their fixed-term ends – whether they’ll be able to afford a new deal. And that will dwarf any of the savings that you’ve made doing anything else. You’ve done this yourself – this isn’t to do with external forces, it’s about your mini-budget and what it’s done to the economy.”

“Interest mates are a matter for the independent Bank of England,” Truss said, arguing they had been rising around the world.

“The BoE have had to bail out your decisions yesterday… The IMF have said that they don’t think what you’ve done is a good idea. Is it a time to reverse what you’ve done?”

“No it isn’t, because the majority of the package we announced on Friday was the support on energy for individuals and businesses and I think that was absolutely the right thing to do.”

This article was updated on Thursday 6 October 2022 to correct two erroneous references to Anna Cookson as “Sarah Cookson”.

Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

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