Reaction to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and Spending Review
James Durie, Chief Executive of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative, reacts to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and Spending Review:
“Once again the ‘builder’ Chancellor has used the tools at his disposal to create a Statement that the majority of businesses will applaud. The statement, widely predicted as being gloomy, was surprisingly upbeat in business terms as he started by citing the South West as a well performing region with the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
“There were also several announcements to spark local interest. He delivered an extension of the Bristol Temple Meads and Bath and Somer Valley Enterprise Zones which we, along with the West of England LEP, have been calling for. This will stimulate growth in the region whilst also boosting the investment stream from retained business rates.
“Increased funding for much needed infrastructure, including funding for low emission vehicles, was another step in the right direction. Businesses can only operate as well as the environment they are in, and the announcement that capital funding for transport projects will rise by 50%, to a total of £61 billion, will be applauded.
“The Chancellor then turned to ‘raising the skills of the nation’, which is a priority in the West of England. High youth unemployment and business skills gaps are a cause for embarrassment and a package of reform for education, along with details of the Apprenticeship Levy will be welcomed by businesses. Although there are reservations as to how this will work in practice.
“It was also good to see as much political emphasis put on fixing the housing crisis, as our region suffers from increasingly high housing costs compared to other areas in the country. The doubling of the housing budget was welcome news, but the overwhelming emphasis on home ownership may be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, higher skilled workers are likely to want to own their own home, so making this easier should make them more likely to stay in our region. However the lack of lower cost rented options may start to hit the lower part of our labour market. It is also worrying to see that the Office of Budget Responsibility is still predicting that house price rises will continue to outstrip earnings.
“Our city has long recognised a link between culture and economic growth, and the increased cash for the national Arts Council will only strengthen this.
What Was Missing
“There were two significant omissions in the Chancellor’s speech. We were pleased that there was no mention of the devolution of Air Passenger Duty to Wales, which had been rumoured as being seriously considered. This move would have potentially hurt Bristol Airport and created an unfair playing field across the Welsh border.
The second omission was no mention of a devolution deal for the West of England, whilst the Northern Powerhouse received a raft of mentions and spending pledges. Bristol and the West of England is now one of the few English city regions that does not have its own devolution deal. We hope that the negotiations currently underway progress quickly so that our city region also has the chance to take hold of the powers and funding that are being offered to others.”