Budget 2018: Cold comfort for East Midlands

Philip Hammond

There was little in the way of substance, or indeed anything new, for the East Midlands in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget yesterday afternoon – and this has been mirrored in the reaction from regional business leaders.

Hammond is hamstrung by a series of Brexit negotiations that have stymied the government’s ambition to set out a post-March agenda, and for all his bravado and bruhaha at the Dispatch Box yesterday, on of the coldest day of the winter so far there was little announced for our region that we didn’t already know and a distinct lack of warmth.

The Government’s promised spending review next year might change that, of course, but although the Chancellor announced that the government will provide £70m for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford on Soar which will care for civilians to aid their recovery from debilitating injury and return to the world of work, this wasn’t new news. Neither was the fact that Derby, Leicester and Nottingham had been shortlisted for a share of a £440m increase to the competitive allocation of the Transforming Cities Fund.

Instead, the dark clouds of Brexit hung over what was the longest Budget speech in a decade, and the region’s business owners were quick to pick up on the inertia.

Jo Sellick, managing director of Derby recruitment firm Sellick Partnership, said: “Chancellor Philip Hammond has delivered his Autumn Budget with the bold headline claim that ‘austerity is coming to an end’. But, there was very little content committing to this pledge. With puns and gaffs aplenty, Hammond managed to talk the talk and threw in some token gestures like raising the personal tax allowance to £12,500, pledging more money to the NHS and mental health funding and a digital service tax for the likes of Google and Amazon. Unfortunately, much like we have seen time and again with Brexit negotiations, the Budget was relatively meaningless and failed to provide the certainty that the UK economy so desperately needs.”

Scott Knowles, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber was disappointed at the lack of detail around the Midlands Engine project.

He said: “We welcome the news of greater infrastructure investment but would have liked for the Midlands Engine for Growth to have received more than just a namecheck. It is vital that here in the East Midlands we receive parity on infrastructure investment with the rest of the UK, not just the 60% per capita we receive now.

“But we agree with his decision to make  an additional £420m available to fill in the potholes on our roads and we’re looking forward to further details about consultation over private sector-led Development Corporations which could be a vehicle that will help us fully realise the potential around the HS2 station hub at Toton and around East Midlands Airport.

“We would have liked to see some stronger messages sent to the EU today about keeping Britain open for business after Brexit, rather than just a suggestion of another Budget in the spring if we don’t secure a deal. And we would have liked more about how we’ll encourage private sector investment, higher employment and higher productivity but, overall, we think it was a Budget that appeared to offer a little something for everyone.”

However, there was some cheer from Leicester wealth management firm Mattioli Woods. The company highlighted Chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to up the lifetime allowance for pensions to £1,055,000.

Technical director George Houston also praised “the continued commitment to encourage individuals to make substantial tax-privileged investments in the form of ISA savings”.

He said: “The annual limit remains at £20,000 while an increase in the limit for junior ISAs is particularly welcome as it encourages the creation of a savings culture for generations to come.”

Time – and Brexit – will tell if this Budget was anything more than a contractual agreement carried out by the Government, however.

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