Boris Johnson in Leyland: The Prime Minister on the cost of living, devolution and the Lancashire residents who stuck to lockdown rules

Boris Johnson swept through Lancashire on a Conservative Party campaign visit on Thursday.

Thursday, 28th April 2022, 7:54 pm

Local elections are being held in council areas including Preston and Chorley next week, but his main destination in Central Lancashire was actually South Ribble, the majority of which is not going to the polls on 5th May.

There he met up with South Ribble Tory MP Katherine Fletcher – one of the 2019 intake from the landslide Conservative general election victory – grabbing an ice cream at Robinsons The Dairy Shop in Leyland.

The Post caught up with him after a trip later in the day to Burnley College, when our reporter quizzed him on the cost of living, the prospects of a Lancashire devolution deal and how he thought the county’s residents had done when it came to sticking to Covid rules during the pandemic.

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Boris Johnson was on the local election campaign trail at Robinsons The Dairy Shop in Leyland (Picture by Andrew Parsons CCHQ / Parsons Media)

This was the result of the five-minute chat between the Post and the PM.

THE POST

“You were in South Ribble a little earlier – and during the first year of the pandemic in that borough, there was a near sevenfold increase in the number of meals given out to schoolchildren by a council holiday hunger hub. One parent described it as a “God send”.

“Doesn’t that show that something has gone badly wrong in society when people can end up in such dire straits – and doesn’t it also prove that there has been a cost of living crisis for people in parts of Lancashire long before the current spike in inflation and energy bills?”

South Ribble Tory MP Katherine Fletcher welcomed the Prime Minister to Leyland

THE PM

“First of all, I was very, very grateful to the people of Lancashire for the way they handled the pandemic – they really pulled together and got it under control time and again. It was amazing to watch it and I want to thank everybody.

“I want to thank the NHS in Lancashire and one of the things we’re doing is investing massively in more hospitals – I think, five more in the North West. Since 2019, there are now 3,600 more nurses, there are about 1,200 more doctors – that’s crucial for the things you’re talking about [to] make sure that people get the healthcare that they need.

“But we also need to make sure that we help people with their family budgets. So the Holiday and Activities Fund is there to help families up and down the country with the pressures that they may face. We’ve also put another half [a] billion into local government to allow them to help families that are having a difficult time.

“To help now with the particular cost of energy, we’re supporting people with a cut in council tax and an overall package of £9.1bn to help people with the cost of energy – a package to help people with the cost of living that is worth £22bn.

“But the key thing that I would say to you about Lancashire and about pressures on people’s lives [is that] the way forward is having high-wage, high-skilled, higher productivity jobs. You have got to see the connection between outcomes for kids today and investment in things like Burnley College, because the right skills, the right infrastructure, the right opportunities – that’s the thing that transforms people’s lives.

“And Lancashire is one of the great hubs of high-tech in the whole of Europe actually.”

THE POST

“But shouldn’t that status that you talk about Lancashire having [actually] put it to the front of the queue when it comes to striking a devolution deal – and yet it’s not even in the list of the next nine areas that are in line for discussions with the government about that.

“What is it that you find unappealing about Lancashire when it comes to devolution, in particular, and what can council leaders do to change your mind?”

THE PM

Strong local councils, that’s what we want to support, but what we want to see also is people getting out on Thursday and voting for local Conservative councillors, who are going to deliver value for money and are going to make sure that potholes are filled in and bins are collected and to deliver all that with lower council tax.”

THE POST“But they can’t deliver a devolution deal without you, can they? You’re the person holding the purse strings and signing the cheque for a devolution deal, or at least your colleague, the Chancellor, is.”

THE PM

“What you need to do, in my experience, [is] you need the local councils to work together to support it, too. We would never have got the GLA [Greater London Authority] going in London if local boroughs hadn’t co-operated and made it work.”

THE POST

“Many districts in Lancashire were under additional Covid restrictions back in 2020 for longer than almost any other part of the country.

“Do you have a message for people here who followed those rules to the letter and the spirit – and often suffered hardship and heartache as a result – only to find that the same standards weren’t always upheld in Downing Street?”

THE PM

“I want to repeat what I said at the beginning, I want to thank the people of Lancashire for the way they handled the pandemic. I watched it, day in, day out – we were monitoring everything and I think they did an amazing job.”