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1 NOV 2018

Budget 2018: Reigniting the regions

Geoff White RICS

Geoff White

Policy Manager (North & Midlands)

Newcastle, UK

RICS

RICS believes the government’s programme of devolution to the English regions has run aground – perhaps not surprising when you consider the energy and resources that Brexit has sucked up.

But rebalancing the UK’s economy and making the regions much stronger economic performers through devolution, investment in transport and digital infrastructure, having the right homes in the right places and economic growth with a vibrant national industrial strategy will be key elements to success over the next few years.

Announcements in the 2018 Budget did little to suggest that the government intends to reignite the switch of power and funding from Whitehall to the regions. While the Chancellor did mention firing up the Northern Powerhouse, fuelling the Midlands Engine and backing other regions across the UK, the detail shows little that is new and that wasn’t expected.

A major concern of RICS is that while the existing devolved nations, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with Greater London, our top ten major cities and the recently created Metro Mayors and Combined Authorities keep receiving help this means that that the bits in between, i.e. much of the UK, is being left behind.

Devolution highlights from the Chancellor’s Budget Paper

Metro Mayors in the money

The Transforming Cities Fund is being extended by a year to 2022-23, providing an extra £240m to the six metro mayors to invest in transport (£21m for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, £69.5m for Greater Manchester, £38.5m for Liverpool City Region, £23m for West of England, £71.5m for the West Midlands, and £16.5m for Tees Valley). A further £440m will be made available to city regions shortlisted for competitive funding (there are ten with another two to be announced).

This is good for those metro mayors who are keen to improve transport infrastructure which is a key driver of economic growth, retention of talent and attractive to investors. A vital component in this transformation will be the adoption of the highest professional standards, such as those demanded by RICS.

Skills pilots to fly

Funding of £20m for skills pilots was announced.  This will include: £7m match funding alongside employers to provide on-the-job training to young people not currently in employment, education or training in Greater Manchester.
A welcome start, but it is imperative that the Government monitors how this pilot embeds and whether it is a success. From there a decision can be made on further roll out. RICS has warned that the shortage of skilled construction workers will hold back government plans for growth in housing, infrastructure and the economy – this needs to be a Government priority.

More on way for Midlands

  • The government will publish a refreshed Midlands Engine Strategy next year.
  • £70m was announced to construct the national element of the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre. 
  • West Midlands Combined Authority will receive up to £20m (subject to approval of a satisfactory business case) to create the UK Mobility Data Institute.
  • £8.5m of government cash was promised for Coventry’s plans to showcase the city when it hosts the UK City of Culture in 2021. It will be spent on a Belgrade Theatre refurb, a new creative talent hub and the city’s Cathedral Quarter.
  • The Chancellor reminded us he has already promised £165m for the Commonwealth Games Athletes’ Village which will unlock 5,000 new homes when the games are over.

Promises for the Powerhouse

  • A refreshed Northern Powerhouse strategy will be published next year.
  • Northern Powerhouse Rail is tasked with transforming the economic geography of the North, connecting cities with faster, more frequent services to boost growth and improve the experiences of passengers across the region. It will get an extra £37m to add to its existing £300m budget.
  • The Chancellor reminded us that £14m (subject to a satisfactory business case) is on offer to support local growth in the Tees Valley with plans for a Special Economic Area covering the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) site. Designation as a Special Economic Area allows for the local retention of additional business rates growth.
  • £100,000 was given to support the development of proposals for an ‘Eden Project North’ centre in Morecambe, Lancashire.

CaMKOx to get own Champion

Following the success of the Northern Powerhouse, which has its own Minister, and the Metro Mayors in squeezing funding out of government, the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford Arc (CaMKOx) is to get its own Ministerial Champion, to provide further focus and facilitate coordination across Whitehall. It is also a recognition that you don’t have to be a big city with a deal or a mayor with a combined authority to be a major player in economic growth. The Arc has attracted a degree of controversy from the magnitude of the transport infrastructure and new homes that are planned to be built (in the region of 1 million). The new Champion will have their work cut out to get local communities on side.

SMEs can bank on new team

The British Business Bank is appointing a team to identify and help to reduce geographical imbalances in access to finance for smaller businesses. ‘Access to finance’ is one of the top three obstacles to development identified by RICS members in our market surveys, so while it is a rather small paragraph in the Budget paper, it will be welcome and could be influential. Nearly 70% of Chartered Surveyors operate out of an SME.

The geographical imbalance of the UK is a salient issue, and efforts to level the scales, through devolution for example, have been welcomed. This additional effort to further counter the ‘South East’ pull – thus easing market strain in the area – should be applauded. The team will be based across the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with new, dedicated directors overseeing its work.

Geoff White RICS

Geoff White

Policy Manager (North & Midlands)

Newcastle, UK

RICS

Geoff is part of the RICS UK External Affairs team which addresses policy, public affairs and press activity to support the organisation’s aims of building influence, credibility and profile to gain recognition of professional standards. Working closely with RICS members, Geoff identifies the challenges and opportunities facing those working in the profession in order to support the delivery, within a public interest mandate, of a vibrant and sustainable land, property and construction sector.

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