Now that we have had time to take in and digest the Autumn budget, we can take a look at it in greater detail. After much speculation in both the press and in professional circles, we now know the contents of the Autumn Budget, and what the government has planned for the next 12 months. As a region vocal in our expectations for the budget, there was a lot at risk – but it looks like the North West might just benefit after all.
The government’s budget announcement – previously revealed to us in the spring months, as opposed to November – has been laid bare for the public to scrutinise; and although it was an overall middling affair, there’s still plenty of scrutiny to go around.
As reactions came in following the Autumn Budget announcement on Wednesday, members of Britain’s business community had their say, whilst politicians picked apart what they saw as a ‘record of failure’. For many commentators, the budget was simply unremarkable with little to no surprises, with a few positives in areas such as digital skills, infrastructure, and devolution. But with Brexit serving as a constant source of worry, is now really the time to rock the boat?
One thing is for sure: the North West made itself heard, and among the vanilla additions to the budget, there were a few tasty morsels for the region to enjoy.
A Fighting Chance for Brexit
Unsurprisingly, Brexit loomed large over proceedings, with businesses growing increasingly concerned around the political and financial consequences of uncertainty. In the lead up to the Autumn Budget, the North West voiced its own concerns around Britain exiting the EU, with opinions focusing on the need to prepare for the worst.
Of great concern was the hole left behind by EU funding once Britain has made its exit. In particular, RICS (the Royal Institute of Certified Surveyors) highlighted how the region might struggle without the European Investment Bank, offering up a potential solution in the form of the Infrastructure Investment Bank. The IIB, RICS explained, could be based on the similar Green Investment Bank, and would serve as a means to “crowd-in investment during a period of uncertainty”.
Meanwhile, RICS’ other concerns came down to the loss of skilled non-UK workers to Brexit, which could see the already dicey skills gap situation grow to crisis point. The Autumn Budget did little to offer any concrete solutions to either of these issues.
What the chancellor did provide, however, were tactics for mitigating some of the damage wrought by Brexit. It was announced that £3bn would be set aside to help the country weather the consequences of Brexit – but is that enough?
Aside from the £3bn fund, good news from our EU dealings was limited, with Brexit forcing Hammond to downgrade economic growth and productivity forecasts, in line with the current state of the economy.
Millennials, Skills and Education
It was predicted that the Autumn Budget would have Millennials very much at its heart, with the government relieving the younger generation of some of the pressure, instead passing the burden to the over-45s.
This was first seen in the leaked Millennial railcard announcement – a welcome resource for the under-30s who are carving out their career in the region’s cities. This has made it easier for businesses to hire wider, allowing their younger employees to commute into the likes of Manchester and Liverpool from surrounding areas.
In the lead up to the budget, there was also concern voiced around housing. Millennials suffer from difficulties in buying houses, and commentators wanted that to change. The budget delivered for first-time buyers within this generation, by removing stamp duty on houses up to the £300,000 mark.
For those a little younger, Hammond announced £600 per maths pupil paid to schools and sixth forms in an effort to attract more STEM students, in line with Britain’s growing ambitions. Meanwhile, £30m has been pledged to develop digital skills through distance learning courses – a key step forward in closing the digital skills gap.
More Devolution and the Digital Revolution
Bringing things a little closer to home, Manchester enjoyed some of the spotlight within the budget.
Already, Greater Manchester enjoys devolved powers, including our own elected mayor. The Autumn Budget went further to secure Greater Manchester even more powers tied to devolution, as well as offering up £1.7bn to be split between six regions with elected mayors.
Manchester’s earned reputation as a digital hub could also be increased in the near future, as investment is poured into connectivity and technology. An extra £30m investment was announced in order to improve upon digital and mobile connectivity on the TransPennine rail line – good news for businesses forming relationships with the likes of Leeds and Huddersfield – whilst £500m was pledged to support 5G networks, full fibre broadband, and artificial intelligence.
As a region already well-ahead in the tech stakes, this additional boost to connectivity could push Manchester even further ahead of the competition, and has the potential to add some oomf to the recently-quiet Northern Powerhouse movement.
An Early Christmas Present?
Although lambasted by other politicians and criticised by business owners as being uninspiring, Hammond’s Autumn Budget does still have some positive areas for the region’s consideration. It’s clear at this point that the government is attempting to mitigate the damage done by Brexit by preparing the country for a bright future in digital and STEM industries, and as digital hubs, cities in the North West could benefit greatly.
What’s more, by providing additional funding for training skills that are in short supply – and making it more attractive for schools and employers to offer said training – Hammond will hopefully be able to encourage greater uptake in these areas. Coupled with more Millennial mobility thanks to the new railcard, the region could find itself accessing a whole new wave of talent.
We’ll now have the opportunity to see the budget in action – especially in the North West – as it unfolds over the next few months. With Brexit negotiations continuing to fill the headlines, and economic uncertainty now becoming a regular occurrence, Britain now more than ever needs to have a game plan in place for the future – and however unremarkable it may be, the Autumn Budget could be the sensible first step we need towards securing that future.
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