Thursday November 23 2023.

2 minute read

Autumn Statement 2023: Returning to base – but is it too late? The Tories seek to restore confidence with supply side measures.

The 2024 election looms and the Tories have begun a bidding war for business and ‘Blue Wall’ backing. How? By going back to their base.

Following a turbulent year for the Government, the intention with this year’s Autumn Statement was to restore voter confidence with traditional Conversative supply-side policy. Far from the ‘red meat’ of leaders prior, the Tories have sought a return to a trusty ‘low tax’ sentiment. They will be hoping that the headline pay packet boost and relief from cost-of-living hardship will appeal to voters – but the real heart of the statement was perhaps more radical and far-reaching than anticipated.

Given the UK has been seen recently as backpedalling on its climate commitments, the slightly unexpected stars of the show were clean energy and advanced manufacturing. The statement confirmed last week’s soft announcement of £4.5 billion to accelerate these key sectors, which are recognised as prime areas to boost economic growth and regional investment on the path to net zero by 2050. This will be supported by three new advanced manufacturing ‘Investment Zones’ across Greater Manchester, and East and West Midlands. Sectors including battery manufacturing, hydrogen, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage could all benefit.

The Chancellor also directly responded to calls from across the built environment sector for reforms to the planning system. He has revealed a new ‘premium’ planning service which aims to guarantee accelerated decision dates for major developments in exchange for a fee, with refunds given if deadlines are missed. Funding to help clear the planning backlogs in Cambridge, London, and Leeds, alongside moves to develop spatial plans for energy and infrastructure will also be welcome.

It had been well-trailed that this announcement would include a response to the desperate need to rapidly expand the UK’s electricity grid infrastructure. Action will be taken to address the lengthy waiting times to connect to the grid, and to smooth the planning process for new grid infrastructure with direct compensation to local communities impacted. This change to how grid projects are managed at a local and national level should enable faster connections, greater renewable energy, and boost growth across the country.

Notably, some news was relegated to inclusion only in the written statement – not the Chancellor’s speech. Those listening for news on Network North investment may have been surprised not to hear it mentioned, but it appears that much of the savings from the HS2 route alteration will now be dedicated to general road resurfacing across England, as well as an undefined expansion of Northern Powerhouse Rail.

This was a statement to put the Conservatives on election footing, but some key elements support ambitions and investment far beyond a 2024 ballot box. The measures to restore investor confidence, remove planning and development barriers, and support our green industries could have far-reaching and long-term benefits for the UK. It remains to be seen whether Mr Hunt will be in post long enough to reap the rewards.

Feb 19, 2024

2 minute read

Better questions, better answers for a changing workplace

How should a business measure the worth of its office? It’s a question that came up at a discussion I attended recently on workplace trends. It might seem like a fairly straightforward thing to calculate, but as the world of work evolves rapidly, the answer is no longer as simple as it might first appear.

Feb 12, 2024

2 minute read

What could a Labour government mean for UK towns and cities?

Urban policy in England is central to shaping the socio-economic fortunes of cities and metropolitan areas. From the role of private enterprise in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher through to the start of devolution for metro regions under the coalition, political decisions create lasting legacies. With a General Election potentially likely in May and the prospect of political change, what could a Labour administration mean for our towns and cities?

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