By Stephen Purvis, Chairman, Policy North
This was George Osborne’s eighth budget, and had some really important content for the North East.
One of the most headline grabbing items for the North East was the very positive news for road improvements, with a commitment to upgrade both the A66 and A69 as part of a £230m package. Our roads are crucial connections for businesses in the North East and improving our infrastructure is key to economic improvement for the region.
Secondly, the Chancellor announced that along with the Justice Secretary, he was exploring giving the Mayor of Manchester some Justice powers. This is a huge step forward for the current programme of devolution's expansion into the social justice agenda and could have a big impact in our own region in the future. I am sure the Policy North team will be looking into this exciting development further.
Thirdly, the Chancellor reaffirmed his commitment to ensure 100% of local government business rate revenue will be kept and spent by local authorities – however, at the same time he announced there will be cuts to business rates for SMEs. There are big questions as to how this will work in practice for the North East and how a workable balance between business and local government finance can be struck.
Finally, I was very pleased to see the Chancellor’s focus on schools and skills. These are hugely important issues for the North East and at the forefront of Policy North’s agenda. The Chancellor announced all schools will become academies by 2022, with extra funding to be provided to do this, alongside a review of the schools funding formula which could have a big impact on places like Northumberland and Durham which currently lose out. Perhaps most interesting was the announcement that Sir Nick Weller will be leading a report on transforming education in the Northern Powerhouse. You can be assured that Policy North will be making sure the North East has a voice in that conversation.