AMID all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to prorogue Parliament for longer than anticipated there has been little room to talk about an extremely important upcoming development for our nation’s economy.
Tomorrow, Chancellor Sajid Javid is set to deliver his Spending Review, a package of economic measures which has already been brought forward once and one that now seems likely to be more of a stage setting exercise ahead of a snap general election next month.
The move will be the Chancellor’s first major setpiece since taking up residence in Number 11 with his maiden economic speech having been scrapped at short notice.
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With a general election now looking extremely likely, intended promises on increased spending on education, health and policing will likely be ramped up and placed front and centre as the Government moves to battle stations.
He will seek to begin winning hearts and minds in anticipation of a contest which will pit its plans against that of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, a Liberal Democrat party which has enjoyed recent electoral success at by-election levels but still lacking in parliamentary seats and a Brexit Party which will be looking to ensure the Tories stay away from any talk of a deal with the European Union.
It now seems inevitable that the Spending Review will be as highly politicised as has been seen in recent years but it also comes off the back of a hustings period in which Mr Johnson made a great deal of promises regarding Yorkshire and the North.
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Promises have been made
While it may be true that politicians campaign in poetry yet govern in prose, it is doubly true that there are areas of great concern that need addressing in order to rebalance Britain’s economy and help reduce the North/South divide.
The Government Mr Johnson leads cannot repeat the same mistakes that his predecessor made. Theresa May’s scant regard to the Northern Powerhouse project stands as one of her greatest failings in office and ultimately cost her at her own snap election in 2017 when the Tories lost many seats across the North.
As such the Spending Review presents a great opportunity to ensure the promises and platitudes of the past become a reality. If I may be so bold I would like to suggest just a few of the matters which we would hope to see delivered at the Dispatch Box at lunchtime on Wednesday.
A pledge to pass into law a commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The project should run from East to West, linking the great cities of the North and include a stop in Bradford. It should be subject to greater standards of rigour and cost control than the HS2 project and have a clear start and finish date, with work to get underway as soon as possible.
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A reform of the Business Rate system.
Retail vacancies currently stand at 10.3 per cent and our high streets need all the help they can get.
Last month 50 of the nation’s largest retail groups took the unprecedented step of collectively authoring a letter to Mr Javid on this very subject. Among those lending their weight to the letter were the heads of Yorkshire firms Asda, Morrisons, the Card Factory and DFS and the message could not have been clearer.
Mr Javid can provide immediate assistance by implementing a freeze in the business rates multiplier and ensuring that the Valuation Office Agency is fully resourced to do its job.
This matter remains one of the primary areas of concern for our business community. Education outcomes for those in the North lag behind the South and nearly nine in ten Yorkshire firms report encountering hiring difficulties.
A scheme similar to the London Challenge used to uplift standards in the capital not so long ago has been talked about for many years but remains just talk. The time for action is now.
Brexit remains the major talking point for so many, but these measures would make a far greater difference to our day-to-day lives and that of our economy than anything.