Budget 2017: Whatever happened to Northern Powerhouse Bingo?
Blink and you’ll have missed it. Not the ‘OmNicshambles’ of a National Insurance hike (despite a manifesto commitment to do no such thing). Not the extra money for social care. And certainly not Jeremy Corbyn’s tepid response. Rather, in marked contrast to his predecessor, the words ‘Northern Powerhouse just about managed to pass ‘Spreadsheet Phil’s’ lips yesterday.
For those of us who have been used to counting how many references George Osborne made to his pet project, yesterday’s budget was a sober reminder from a sombre Chancellor of the different political landscape that the North finds itself in under Theresa May’s Premiership.
With Mayoral elections in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham this year it is clear where the Conservative Party sees its best chance of electoral success, and it is not here in the North West. The promise of a Midlands Engine Strategy to be published today – only two months away from polling day – indicates that, for now at least, the Government’s priorities are on winning the West Midlands mayoral contest.
The last ever Spring Budget was relatively light on announcements around infrastructure, housing and devolution. Some extra funding was announced for local transport initiatives in Blackpool, the A483 corridor in Cheshire and pinch points on the strategic road network. More funding could also be on the way to Greater Manchester for transport investment.
But following the draft Housing White Paper it seems that the Treasury is less interested in tackling the housing crisis than previously and is leaving DCLG to solve the problem instead. With more cuts anticipated to government departments (including DCLG) it remains to be seen whether the planned 20% increase in planning fees will do anything to support overstretched and under-resourced planning departments across the North.
For a region used to being in the centre of the Treasury’s gaze in recent years the lack of attention yesterday may make some uncomfortable. But with another Budget set for the autumn, the triggering of Article 50 and the mayoral elections out of the way we shouldn’t have to wait too long to play Northern Powerhouse Bingo again.
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