Today saw chancellor George Osborne give his eighth budget – which isn’t bad for a man who’s been chancellor for just under six years. I mean, that’s roughly one budget every nine months, and that’s not even including the Autumn Statements. Say what you like about George Osborne, but the man knows how to give a lot of Budgets.
But I digress. What did the Budget hold for the nation’s cities, I hear you ask? Here are five things.
The Northern Powerhouse is go
Said powerhouse has been such a signature policy for Osborne for so long that to be honest this shouldn’t be something we need to bother saying at all. But there have been so many suggestions that the promised investment wasn’t affordable after all, that “it’s still on” does actually seem like something worth saying.
Anyway – Osborne promised to move forward with a slew of investments to cut journey times between the cities of England’s north: £75m in funding to get the proposed 18 mile Trans-Pennine road tunnel, between Manchester and Sheffield, moving; £161m to widen the M62; £60m to draw up “detailed plans” for the “High Speed 3” rail link, to cut journey times between Manchester and Leeds.
Much of this is a bit half hearted, to be honest – High Speed 3 won’t actually be high speed at all, just less terrible than the moment; and the Trans-Pennine tunnel is predicted to cost £6bn. Where that money will come from is currently unclear, since the entire pot of cash just allocated to northern transport is worth just £300m.
London hasn’t been forgotten
Thank god. Osborne also promised £80m to get Crossrail 2 moving. That won’t be enough to make it happen, but does anyone seriously doubt that this scheme will happen?
Here, to jog your memories, is a map.
Click to expand.
Devolution is going to the country
As well as promising yet more powers for Greater Manchester, Osborne announced devolution deals for East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough) and “Greater Lincolnshire” (which we used to just call “Lincolnshire”, before the top bit of the county got eaten by Humberside).
These, you’ll notice, aren’t cities at all, but will still get elected mayors. This isn’t the first time – the North East deal includes rural Northumberland and Durham rather than just greater Newcastle – but the fact there will be a mayor of East Anglia is still a bit weird. The last person who had the job of running East Anglia was King Guthrum II, and he died in 918.
Osborne also announced a devolution deal for the “West of England” – covering what used to be the new fangled county of Avon (so, greater Bristol and Bath, basically). But the heavily trailed Solent City deal (Southampton/Portsmouth) failed to materialise.
Here’s a map of England’s devolution deals as they stand. Leeds and the Solent area seem to be the main hold outs.
Click to expand.
Osborne also promised to “strengthen city regions within Scotland and Wales” by agreeing a city deals in Cardiff, and starting negotiations in Swansea and Edinburgh. The existing devolved administrations, especially the one run by the SNP, will just love that.
There’s no end in sight to the housing crisis
Given how big a deal housing has been in Westminster recently – and how senior figures in government are apparently growing concerned that the legacy of this Tory government may yet be a collapse in ownership rates – you might have expected something big in the chancellor’s statement today.
Not a bit of it, though. Osborne announced a “lifetime ISA” for the under-40s, in which the government rewards you for saving – a bit like the existing Help to Buy ISA, but with no requirement to spend the money on a house. This is apparently to encourage people to save for later life, a sort of pension for a generation which has largely been shut out of pensions.
There was also confirmation of the increase in stamp duty on new house sales after this April (3 per cent!). That money will go to community-led housing developments (which is good), but it’s only £60m (which is nothing).
What there wasn’t, though, was anything – major land reform; a significant investment in new public building – that might significantly increase the number of homes being built.
As the campaign group Generation Rent summed it up:
That’s it. No big housing announcement this time; a cynic might welcome that, given his record. The housing crisis rumbles on #Budget2016
— Generation Rent (@genrentuk) March 16, 2016
Pork springs eternal
Helensburgh very rarely makes the national news, and £5m isn’t very much money in Treasury terms. But Osborne specifically announced he was going to spend that money to provide a new swimming pool and other leisure facilities in the town, in response to an appeal by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP.
So, there you go.
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