Autumn Statement confirms road and rail funding, with prospect of mayoral borrowing powers
The headlines will be taken by the growth, public borrowing and debt forecasts, but there was also news for our region and for followers of devolution in today’s Autumn Statement.
Key measures of note include:
- An additional £1.1bn of investment in local transport networks, to include: £220m to address traffic pinch points; £459m to trial digital signalling on railways; and; £390m to build competitive advantage in low emission vehicles.
- HM Treasury will be providing funding for the evaluation study for the Midlands Rail Hub.
- Allocation of £1.8bn from the Local Growth Fund to the English regions, including £542m to the Midlands and East of England.
- Directly-elected mayors will be provided with “new borrowing powers to reflect their new responsibilities.”
- Additional investment in Research and Development was announced, rising to an extra £2bn per year by 2020-2021.
- A National Productivity Investment Fund of £23bn will be created to address productivity through infrastructure and innovation over the next five years.
- A new £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund was announced to deliver infrastructure for up to 100,000 new homes in areas of high demand.
- A further £1.4bn to deliver 40,000 additional affordable homes as well as to relax restrictions on government grant to allow a wider range of housing-types
- £740m for the development of 5G and the further roll out of fibre connections, plus over £1bn will be invested in the country’s digital infrastructure, including for 5G trials.
The leading mayoral candidates have been quick to respond. Siôn Simon said:
Today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has ruled out a government-backed deal to create free use of the M6 toll road in his Autumn Statement. We need this to happen to take pressure off our local roads and get the West Midlands moving again. I will continue to lead the campaign for a government-backed deal to free up the M6 toll road to tackle congestion and the misery it brings to our region.
Andy Street was, not surprisingly, more upbeat. And lengthier.
We were promised large-scale infrastructure investment from the Autumn Statement, and that is what has been offered.
HS2 already represents the biggest investment in infrastructure in the UK and the West Midlands will be the primary beneficiary, transforming travel.
Tackling congestion across our region is going to be one of my key priorities as Mayor.
Therefore, today’s announcement of investment to kick start the Midlands Rail Hub project is very welcome. It shows the Government is supporting smart, targeted investments that will make a fast difference.
By addressing the bottleneck around New Street station we can run an extra ten trains an hour into the city.
This investment builds on the £4.4bn for the HS2 connectivity package which the West Midlands Combined Authority has already secured and will ensure HS2 brings benefits across the whole WMCA area.
However, the most important thing to come from the Autumn Statement is the Government’s commitment to a second Devolution Deal.
With a strong mayor, the potential of a second Devolution Deal cannot be underestimated. If we can negotiate further powers, it will be another step towards the West Midlands taking decisions for itself.
I look forward to seeing that come to fruition.
Having the option to raise funds for WMCA projects via borrowing is also welcome, and could provide some excellent opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together. However, clearly, this must be handled very wisely indeed.
I also welcome the commitment to new housing funds and it is vital the West Midlands gains more than its fair share of the £1.4bn available nationwide. Given our clear issues, we must be swift to act here.
Meanwhile, another prominent Conservative in the region was less impressed by aspects of the Statement.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board and the WMCA Lead on Finance and Investments, said:
Councils, care providers, charities and the NHS have all called on the Government to use the Autumn Statement to properly fund adult social care.
The Government’s failure to act today means social care remains in crisis, councils and the NHS continue to be pushed to the financial brink and face the prospect of more care providers leaving the publicly-funded market or ceasing trading.
Tragically, the human cost of this will be elderly and vulnerable people continuing to face an ever uncertain future where they might no longer receive the dignified care and support they deserve, such as help getting dressed or getting out and about, which is crucial to their independence and wellbeing.
This is not only worse for our parents and grandparents but will also heap further pressure on the NHS. There cannot be a sustainable NHS without a sustainable adult social care system.
We have estimated that social care for the elderly and disabled faces a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion. Extra council tax-raising powers will not bring in enough money to alleviate the pressure on social care and councils will not receive the vast majority of new funding in the Better Care Fund until the end of the decade. Services supporting our elderly and vulnerable are at breaking point now.
The Government cannot ignore this crisis. It must recognise why social care matters and treat it as a national priority. If councils are to stand any chance of protecting the services which care for the elderly and vulnerable, this means urgent action to properly fund social care.
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