Chancellor moves £2bn Midlands Rail Hub a step closer

While Chancellor Rishi Sunak concentrated heavily on measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis in his first Budget, there was plenty for the Midlands to cheer about.

Midlands Connect’s flagship Midlands Rail Hub plans have been awarded £20 million in the Chancellor’s Budget, taking the £2bn package of improvements to rail services to the next stage of development, and closer to delivery.

The proposals include 24 extra train services every hour on commuter and inter-regional services services between towns and cities including Coventry, Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln, Worcester, Hereford and beyond. Six million more passenger journeys every year will be made possible, with an estimated annual economic boost of £649 million.

The £20 million government investment means the Midlands Rail Hub can move to the next stage of development, an Outline Business Case (OBC), which will include detailed design, planning and costings.

Midlands Connect says it is “determined” to accelerate the planning and then the delivery of the Midlands Rail Hub as soon as possible. Some of the proposed improvements could start to be delivered during this parliament (from 2024), including the reopening of platform 4 at Birmingham Snow Hill station, and improvements to line speeds between Leicester and Birmingham.

Jay Boyce, partner at MHA MacIntrye Hudson, said: “The main issue in the Chancellor’s Budget was the amount of money he pledged to spend – more than we’ve ever seen before.

“Perhaps the coronavirus crisis has given him free hand to do that, but the devil, as ever, will be in the detail as I can’t believe it will all be funded by debt. I just feel that at some point we’re doing to have to pay for it through tax rises.

“Having said that, the Chancellor ticked a lot of boxes during his statement and on the surface the Budget looks to be a good one. On the biggest issue for businesses – coronavirus – he was decisive. An astounding amount of money was mentioned throughout the hour the Chancellor was on his feet, but this was definitely the coronavirus Budget.”

This was borne out by multi-billion-pound spending commitments to support the response to coronavirus and he also set out his plans to begin the fulfilment of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto in a wide-ranging and upbeat 63-minute speech.

Sajid Javid’s untimely departure last month and the global health and economic impact of Covid-19 disrupted preparations for the Budget.

But Sunak used this first post-Brexit financial statement to set out the Government’s “plan for prosperity tomorrow”.

The Richmond MP, confidently delivering his first Budget just weeks after becoming Chancellor, started by immediately addressing the impact of coronavirus.

He warned that up to one-fifth of the working-age population may need to be off work at any one time, with impacts on both productivity and demand.

Sunak warned there will be “a significant impact on the UK economy, but it will be temporary”.

He added: “For a period, it is going to be tough.”

He set out a three-point plan which involved funding the NHS’s response “whatever the cost”, changes in statutory sick pay, and a commitment to support struggling businesses.

The Chancellor described his series of measures as “one of the most comprehensive economic responses by any Government around the world.”

Businesses with fewer than 250 staff will be able to get refunds from sick pay paid out to employees for up to 14 days, and a coronavirus business interruption loan scheme which will offer loans of up to £1.2m.

There were multi-billion-pound spending commitments to support the response to coronavirus and he also set out his plans to begin the fulfilment of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto in a wide-ranging and upbeat 63-minute speech.

Sajid Javid’s untimely departure last month and the global health and economic impact of Covid-19 disrupted preparations for the Budget.

But Sunak used this first post-Brexit financial statement to set out the Government’s “plan for prosperity tomorrow”.

The Richmond MP, confidently delivering his first Budget just weeks after becoming Chancellor, started by immediately addressing the impact of coronavirus.

He warned that up to one-fifth of the working-age population may need to be off work at any one time, with impacts on both productivity and demand.

Sunak warned there will be “a significant impact on the UK economy, but it will be temporary”.

He added: “For a period, it is going to be tough.”

He set out a three-point plan which involved funding the NHS’s response “whatever the cost”, changes in statutory sick pay, and a commitment to support struggling businesses.

The Chancellor described his series of measures as “one of the most comprehensive economic responses by any Government around the world.”

Businesses with fewer than 250 staff will be able to get refunds from sick pay paid out to employees for up to 14 days, and a coronavirus business interruption loan scheme which will offer loans of up to £1.2m.

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