Rishi Sunak was grilled on issues from sewage spills to the state of council debt during a visit to Sussex.

The Prime Minister told The Argus it was “great” to be in Sussex, where he visited Sea Scouts at Shoreham Port and Border Force officers at Gatwick Airport on Thursday.

He was accompanied by local MPs Tim Loughton and Henry Smith for his trips across the county and was questioned on several issues affecting residents in Sussex.

'Tough on enforcement' of water companies

One matter brought to the Prime Minister’s attention was a recent sewage spill off the coast which prompted Adur and Worthing Councils to urge people not to swim in the sea.

The PM said he was “glad” the incident was resolved “relatively quickly” and said: “We are being incredibly tough to crack down on this type of thing. We have imposed the strictest ever legally binding targets on the water companies.

“We’re now monitoring all these overflows in a way that never happened before - by the end of the year we’ll have 100 per cent done, so we actually know what’s going on.

“Thirdly, we’re being incredibly tough on enforcement so we now have unlimited penalties for water companies and Ofwat has been given new powers so they can link things like dividend and bonus payments to the actual performance of the company, making sure it is meeting all its targets and improving the quality of water.

“We’ve got a very clear plan - that plan is working when it comes to water and if we stick with it, we’ll get the changes we want to see.”

East Worthing MP Tim Loughton also gave credit to Southern Water over the sewage spill and said that the incident was a result of “mechanical failure”.

“It was brand new pumps which have failed and they’ve had to go back to the manufacturers - I’ve been very critical of Southern Water, but credit where credit is due,” Mr Loughton said.

Sunak addresses council debt challenges

The Prime Minister, who previously served as local government minister, also addressed levels of debt that councils in Sussex are facing, with authorities in the county facing a combined total of £1.9 billion in debt.

He said: “We’re always talking to councils about the best way to support them.

“When I became Prime Minister, we provided extra funding for social care - billions of pounds of extra funding over the last year and this year - because we knew that was a pressure that councils were facing.

“On average, this year councils are getting roughly about a ten per cent increase in the amount of cash that they have available to spend.

“We’re also investing directly in local communities through the levelling up funds - dozens of high streets, town centres and market towns are seeing that investment.”

When quizzed on the pressures councils have faced for temporary housing, the Prime Minister highlighted the work his government is doing to crack down on illegal immigration.

He said: “It undermines our sense of fairness, it puts innocent people’s lives at risk when they make these crossings, but it also puts unsustainable pressure on our local communities and housing is a good example of that.

“The country is spending millions of pounds housing illegal migrants in hotels - thankfully because we’re making progress and our plans are working, we are starting to close those hotels, including some in the South East.

“In order to fully resolve that issue, to make sure that we can reduce that pressure considerably on housing, we’ve got to stop the boats and that’s why our Rwanda scheme is so important.”

'One of the most appalling miscarriages of justice'

The Prime Minister also addressed concerns of sub-postmaster Sami Sabet, from Shoreham, who suffers from PTSD after “losing” £2.8 million from three post offices he ran and being wrongly prosecuted for fraud. Mr Sabet now fears he will die before getting justice after the scandal made national headlines earlier this month.

Rishi Sunak described the scandal as “one of the most appalling miscarriages of justice that our country has ever seen” and said everyone had been struck by stories like that of Mr Sabet.

He said: “My heart goes out to Mr Sabet and many more like him who have suffered appallingly for many years.

“We are acting as quickly as we can to ensure that all of those affected get the justice, the compensation and the answers they deserve.

“I made the announcement the other week that said we are going to bring forward legislation that will overturn convictions that will speed up people’s ability to get compensation.

“We are keen to do as much as we can as quickly as we can and hopefully the announcement we made will bring extra comfort and reassurance to those that have been impacted by this appalling scandal.”

During his time at Shoreham Port, The Argus challenged the Prime Minister on the state of the NHS in Brighton, holding up the front page of this paper which showed a picture of patients waiting on hospital beds in a corridor in the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Rishi Sunak told The Argus that the government had made “good progress” on addressing waiting lists and had ploughed “record levels” of investment into the NHS to make sure it is “fit for the future”.