Our comment: Autumn Statement 2014

The recent Autumn Statement (or Budget 2014 operating system update 0.2) will continue to make a mixed contribution to supporting our roadmap 2020 priorities for a better region.

On the positive side, after the Scotland referendum the noises about devolution and balanced development outside London continue to grow and are reflected with funding and initiatives on rail, transport and economic development for the North. Hopefully this momentum will continue to reflect the Midlands in the future. There were several suggestions at our recent conference, including creating a West Midlands ‘think tank’ to raise our profile and support our MPs in Westminster.

The new local road schemes announced include improving ‘pinch points’, rolling out the ‘smart variable speed controls’ to improve the use of the existing network pioneered in the West Midlands. The support for the extension of the Midlands Metro was announced again, while Coventry was also announced as a location for driverless car trials

The freeze in fuel duty was a potential missed opportunity to develop a different market mechanism to provide stability to volatile energy prices which are hitting investment patterns across a range of energy technologies.

The changes in Stamp duty are seen as missed opportunity to link this to energy efficient measures in homes.

Several new local flood defence schemes were announced, including Perry Bar and Witton where we have worked with the Environment Agency and stakeholders to lever in extra local contributions. Unfortunately the overall flood defence funding was largely re-announced ‘old money’ and according to the Government’s Climate Change Committee will not replace what has already been cut or is predicted to be required.

The big news is the reminder of the scale of the cuts to public spending yet to come and how this will play out for local authorities. In our experience where sustainability can be linked to a clear operational business case such as energy, carbon and cost management, risk and resilience cost prevention, or stimulating economic development, then it has survived.

However the real trick is leadership, creating space and partnerships to plan and respond to opportunities to create a better future. The next 18 months will be a critical time to see how our local leadership can work together to wrestle power and funding from London, care for our most vulnerable people, and fight for our future – providing hope that we can create a better place for our communities and businesses.

As sustainability advisers to leaders of the West Midlands, we want to continue to play our part in this. We are already the Government recognised sustainability champion for the West Midlands, we are ready to become the locally recognised body for the emerging combined authority.

Dr Simon Slater, Chief Executive, Sustainability West Midlands