Our Comment: Autumn Statement 2016
The recent Autumn statement is intended to be the last for a while with the Government reverting back to one budget a year in March, rather than one every six months. Unfortunately, this desire to create more certainty may come to nothing with the reality of Brexit, new US foreign policy, and some economic forecasts predicting a decade of reduction in living standards in the UK not seen since the 1930’s.
At SWM we are over halfway through our 2010-2020 Roadmap which we reported on progress at our recent annual conference. So how does the Autumn Statement stack up against our regional priorities?
Low Carbon Jobs, Waste, Local Energy Networks and Buildings.
There were no major changes to the Carbon Price Floor and Low Carbon Levy Framework, which unfortunately did not provide the longer-term signals of certainty that future low carbon energy investors wanted. There was a further extension of the shale gas community fund, as part of the efforts to make this technology more acceptable. Despite pressure from the industry there was no further help for North Sea oil, gas or the coal industry.
A new £23 billion Productivity Fund will focus on innovation, broadband, transport and housing. There was also some degree of spatial targeting with £1.8 billion for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and £2.3 billion for areas of housing need.
If the productivity investment fund and local growth funds recognise the contribuition of low carbon jobs, buildings, waste and energy to productivity then this could be a useful boost to mainstreaming the contribution these sectors make. If not, it is a wasted opportunity with ‘business as usual’ being mistaken as certainty rather than creating new opportunities for us all to prosper in the future.
Low Carbon Transport
Despite the freeze on fuel duty for the 7th year in a row, the new announcements on low carbon transport were seen by many ‘green’ commentators as the best news in the budget. There will be £390m invested into low carbon cars, buses, fuels, navigation and charging points by 2020.
The recognition and investment in low carbon transport will benefit our region because of our UK and global expertise in this area as demonstrated by the SWM research for the WMCA and subsequently the Science and Innovation Audits.
There was £170m promised to help with flood protection measures, although once again there was a debate on whether this was new funding, and whether the economic criteria would lead to more valuable parts of the South East being protected at the expense of the North.
Local Leadership and Devolution
There were more powers for local ‘metro-mayors’ to borrow or raise funding for infrastructure. In the West Midlands our share of infrastructure funding looks like it will ‘trickle down’ from a new Midlands Engine strategy covering East and West Midlands, then to the individual LEPs.
However, there is ongoing concern about the administration and delivery of funds. The West Midlands has made great strides with the new Combined Authority, future Mayor and local LEPs. However the Government appears to see it as a subset of a wider Midlands Engine which has a developing governance structure and the East Midlands isn’t as advanced with its plans for a Combined Authority or ‘metro-style Mayor’.
Dr Simon Slater, on behalf of the SWM team
For a complete overview, visit the Gov.uk website.
Other sources include Birmingham Post, Carbon Brief, New Start, Centre for Cities
Our previous coverage of recent budgets can be found below.