Why Rishi Sunak must deliver Budget for the North – Andrew Vine

THERE are no easy answers for the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to offer the country when he stands at the dispatch box tomorrow to deliver his Budget.

Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs as a result of the economic blow dealt to Britain by the pandemic, and the £300bn debt incurred in trying to mitigate its consequences will hang round the country’s neck for years to come.

Mr Sunak’s task in trying to plot a course of recovery from this appalling crisis is the hardest faced by any Chancellor in living memory.

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The leaks and hints over the past few days about what will be in his red dispatch box have all been predictable enough – tax rises in one form or another, whether by freezing personal allowances or making corporations pay more, were only to be expected.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to deliver a landmark Budget tomorrow.

So is a £5bn aid package for struggling high streets – of which Yorkshire has many – which is welcome, but not nearly enough. Spread nationwide, even such a huge sum won’t go far in repairing the damage of lockdowns and the onslaught of online shopping.

It’s going to take a lot more than that to get the country back to prosperity – especially for all of us in the North who have been hit particularly hard by the events of the past year.

Now, more than ever, the Chancellor has to make a solid commitment to ending the years of inadequate investment in Yorkshire and the rest of the North, because without it there is a risk of us falling even further behind the affluent South-East.

The country cannot afford for that to happen. If there is to be sustained national recovery, Britain needs the North to be pulling all of its economic weight, and that can happen only if we are given the tools and the funding to release the region’s massive potential.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak during his interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr.

This has to be a Budget for the North, and it is very much to be hoped that as an MP for a Yorkshire constituency, Mr Sunak is more acutely aware of the necessity of that than some of his predecessors.

Just how staggering the level of North-South inequality remains was illustrated recently by the campaign group Tax Justice UK. Its analysis of official figures revealed that a group of about 1,600 wealthy people in London take home £9bn a year in capital gains – £1bn more than the £8bn of everyone in the North combined.

Those figures were further evidence of the raw deal we have been getting for years.

It simply cannot be right that, in terms of spending on schools, roads or railways, a resident of Yorkshire receives less from the Government than somebody living in, say, Surrey.

Will Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson use this week's Budget to put in place policies to narrow the North-South divide?

Here in Yorkshire, we were already at a disadvantage even before Covid-19 started destroying businesses and jobs along with ending lives. That makes our recovery and ability to help people back onto their feet so much harder than it is for London and the affluent counties that look to the capital to boost their own fortunes.

There has to be more recognition of this by the Government in terms of investment in infrastructure, yet all we have had so far is words.

Boris Johnson’s pledges to level up the economy are increasingly hard to believe, and a credibility gap is opening up between his rhetoric and the Northern constituencies which put their faith in him to deliver real change for the better.

There are about three years until the next election, which is a very long time in politics, but the briefest blink of an eye in terms of getting major projects planned, let alone under way.

The past weeks have seen prevarication from the Government on sorely needed rail improvements in Yorkshire, and there have to be serious doubts about the likelihood of the HS2 line to our region being built in the foreseeable future.

Talk of commitment to the North needs to be backed up with money and action, even against the backdrop of the parlous state of public finances. Moving large parts of the Civil Service north as a priority would be a firm indication that the Government is committed to the region.

But it cannot be tokenism, with civil servants spending a few days here every week in a hotel and returning home to the South-East at weekends – it must be a permanent move.

Only when senior officials live and work here can they develop a proper understanding of the challenges that the North faces.

The North is home to 15 million people, which is getting on for a quarter of Britain’s population, yet it still receives nothing like the attention such a vast swathe of the country deserves.

The challenge for Mr Sunak tomorrow is to demonstrate that he understands the unfairness of the North-South divide and is committed to doing something about it.

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