Whitehall Weekly considers three major developments. Firstly, we investigate whether the Northern Powerhouse is already starting to run out of steam, secondly we analyse the Defence Budget and lastly we look ahead to next Wednesday’s Budget, the first under a Conservative-majority government in almost twenty years.
Northern Powerhouse hitting the buffers: A derailment or just a slight delay?
Some have been asking serious questions about the reality of the Northern Powerhouse, the Chancellor, George Osborne’s project to build a conurbation which exceeds London in its economic clout in order to balance the English economy. Two developments are key. First, it was announced recently that funding will not be delivered to electrify the Trans-Pennine line between Leeds and Manchester. Second, this week the planning permission on another site for shale gas exploration in Lancashire was rejected, though it looks like the decision will be appealed. Given these developments, and a stubborn unwillingness on the part of central government to take the lead, it is unsurprising that IPPR North, the respected Labour leaning think-tank, this week suggested that: “Until the government commits new money for the north, particularly in infrastructure, many businesses are likely to continue to view the northern powerhouse as a brand lacking substance.”
The defence of the realm needs a Defence Budget
With the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon saying this week that Britain should be prepared to launch airstrikes in Syria against ISIL as well as in Iraq. The difficulty here is that the Royal Air Force is currently using only eight Tornadoes. To pull our weight more resources would have to be committed and therefore budget for the Air Force which is being slashed under current plans let alone figures which could emerge showing that the defence budget will be decimated. Expect a huge backlash in the Commons if resources are not pledged for defence. This will all affect the Budget next week – spending in one area considerably limits tax policy in another. There will no doubt be a large crackdown on tax avoidance which will keep HMRC, a department also feeling effects of years of cuts extremely busy.
Budget 2015 (part deux)
The Northern Powerhouse is expected to receive more funding in next week’s Budget with an ‘oyster card for the north’ widely anticipated. More importantly for the Budget and for the project will be announcements over the next few weeks about more regions getting directly elected mayors. With Manchester fast becoming seen in policymaking circles in London as the de facto capital of the north Yorkshire is set to announce its intention for its own devolution package. Whether the wider powerhouse happens devolution will not be just the province of Stormont or Holyrood. Hull, Halifax and Castleford could be about to rise up the agenda in a big way.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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