What the budget means for the North

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt began his plan for growth with an overview of his plans for the regions – the ‘everywhere’ aspect of his growth plan.

But there was no mention of HS2 – and even before the chancellor started his announcement prime minister Rishi Sunak side-stepped a question on it at the end of Prime Minister’s Question Time, simply saying that the government had increased annual funding to the North by 30% each year.

The main points of Hunt’s plan for the regions are:

  • 12 new investment zones, including ones in West and South Yorkshire, Liverpool and Greater Manchester.
  • A £1bn third round of Levelling Up funding
  • More control over budgets in Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined Authorities, with plans to roll this out to other combined authorities
  • Consultation over plans to remove central government funding from Local Enterprise Partnerships and a greater role for local authorities in encouraging business growth.
  • Levelling Up Partnerships in 20 areas most in need for regeneration, including Kingston upon Hull, Wakefield, Blackburn with Darwen, Rother, Oldham, Doncaster, and Rochdale.

“Anything that encourages growth and investment outside London is welcome,” said Zoe Roberts, tax partner at BHP in Sheffield.

The budget was broadly welcomed by Sir Roger Marsh, chair of the NP11 group of northern Local Enterprise Partnerships.

“The North of England is a hotbed of innovation and invention, so I’m delighted the Chancellor is backing our region by locating six of England’s eight new investment zones here in the North.

“The confirmation of £80m funding per investment zone over the next five years will help the North build on its internationally significant strengths in industries such as clean energy, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, digital and creative industries, ensuring our region plays its full part in building a Global Britain that is known the world over as a Science and Technology superpower.”

Sir Roger said investment in academic institutions and emerging innovation clusters would be needed to truly boost business growth and international trade.

He added, “We also welcome the confirmation in the Budget of significant investment in carbon capture and storage and low carbon technologies. The North is already the UK’s Net Zero Powerhouse, responsible for half of the country’s renewable energy, and we are in pole position to help the Government unlock the once-in-a-generation economic opportunity that the global transition to Net Zero represents.”

Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined Authorities will gain greater control of their budgets under plans announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in his spring budget.

The two authorities will act as test beds for deeper devolution plans to be spread to combined authorities across England, including West and South Yorkshire, and the proposed East Midlands combined authorities.

The powers, published in the Levelling Up White Paper accompanying the budget, include a greater role in simplifying and integrating ticketing in local transport systems; devolution of the majority of 19+ adult skills funding to mayors; a long-term commitment to local authorities retaining 100% of their business rates. For the first time outside of London, local leaders will now be able to set the strategic direction over the Affordable Housing Programme in their areas.

Andy Burnham, Mayor for Greater Manchester, said: “This is the seventh devolution deal Greater Manchester has agreed with the government and it is by some way the deepest. This Deal takes devolution in the city-region further and faster than ever before, giving us more ability to improve the lives of people who live and work here.

“I have always been a passionate believer in the power of devolution, and I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to exercise those powers and make a positive difference to people’s lives.

“We’ve worked hard to secure this Deal and have achieved a significant breakthrough by gaining greater control over post-16 technical education, setting us firmly on the path to become the UK’s first technical education city-region; new levers and responsibilities to achieve fully integrated public transport including rail through the Bee Network by 2030; new responsibilities over housing that will allow us to crack down on rogue landlords and control over £150m brownfield funding; and a single block grant that will allow us to go further and faster in growing our economy, reducing inequalities and providing opportunities for all.

“With more power comes the need for great accountability and I welcome the strengthened arrangements announced in the Deal.

“While we didn’t get everything we wanted from the Deal, we will continue to engage with government on those areas in the future. For now, our focus will be on getting ready to take on the new powers and be held to account on the decisions we will be making on behalf of the people of Greater Manchester. Today is a new era for English devolution.”

In addition, the chancellor confirmed 12 pre-announced investment zones across the UK, including ones in South and West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, and the East and West Midlands.

Central government funding for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) could be withdrawn in April 24 with their functions to be delivered by local authorities instead. The Department for Business and Trade and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will consult on the proposals, with the government due to publish a policy position by summer.

New Levelling Up Partnerships in 20 areas ‘most in need of levelling up’ will gain £400m funding for bespoke regeneration. These include Kingston upon Hull, Wakefield, Blackburn with Darwen, Rother, Oldham, Doncaster, and Rochdale.

Martin Hathaway, managing director of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said, “While levelling up did get a significant mention in today’s budget, I would like more detail on how exactly this £400m package of support and the investment zones for the north can be accessed. We need action on levelling up. 

 “We have talked about it in many budgets since the term was coined but I hope that Mr Hunt can actually start to move this programme forward with the support of his dedicated Secretary of State, Michael Gove.  

 “I was disappointed that transport did not appear a top priority for the Chancellor today. Here in Yorkshire, and across the north, we have suffered with inadequate transport links for many years, made worse by the ongoing strike action.  

 “I urge the Chancellor to place a higher focus on transport in our areas to bring it up to speed with the capital and other global infrastructure leaders. Enough is enough.”

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