Manchester could be the centre of a Northern Powerhouse. Photo:Richard Heyes/Flickr
1. The government signalled a commitment to build a “Northern Powerhouse”, with major investment in the roads of northern England, new rail franchises, and a materials research institute
Michael Synnott, Warwick Business School senior teaching fellow in infrastructural management and strategy, said: “If the government is sincere in its goals for HS3 and the rejuvenation of the great northern cities, why not turn HS2 on its head? Instead of London, the HS2 project should commence at Manchester. This would show that the government’s commitment to bridging the north/south divide is real.”
Robert Hannah, board member for the regions at Grant Thornton, said: “George Osborne’s vision for a Northern Powerhouse is a good start but what businesses in the north of England also need is global air links, with more international flights from Manchester airport, to build a truly global powerhouse.”
2. The government announced a £15bn road building strategy
Diana Montgomery, chief executive, Construction Products Assocation, said: “We were encouraged by the announcements of a £15bn Road Investment Strategy. The road-building plan is the largest in a generation, but key to this ambition is delivery of projects and the need for government to set up the Highways Agency with ring-fenced funding. This will help provide the market with the certainty it requires."
3. The government has scrapped employer’s National Insurance contributions for all apprentices under 25.
Kevin Wellman, chief executive officer for the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE), said: “Clearly, this is going to be very beneficial for employers and apprentices. When you look at the savings an employer will make over a three-year period, it’s quite substantial. It will also encourage more employers who were doubtful about taking on an apprentice to take that first step. On top of this, the £20m budget to improve careers advice will help students to make the right decision on their career path.”
4. Contrary to expectations, there were no firm measures supporting regional devolution for English cities and city-regions, other than a statement that the ‘door was open’ for other cities to follow Manchester
Read related article
Gordon Hannah, board member for the regions at business consultancy Grant Thornton, said: "Devolution will also support the Northern Powerhouse. The chancellor said today that his door was open for more cities to follow Manchester in collaborating across a number of local authorities to secure new powers and budgets from Whitehall. Businesses have told us that local transport and skills should be the core of these city region powers.
“Today the chancellor announced devolution of business rates to Wales. This was not a part of the recent Manchester devolution package, but there is significant appetite for business rates to be devolved to city regions, to give authorities a tangible incentive to promote business growth and this is something that government should look at again.
“We know local authorities in Sheffield and Leeds have already formed combined authorities and should be next to secure devolution deals.”
5. Stamp Duty has been reformed, reducing the rates on lower-value properties and removing the value thresholds for higher rates in favour of a more progressive tax
In a statement, the RICS said it had “long called for reform to Stamp Duty and applauds the chancellor on seizing the opportunity of a housing-led recovery which will reduce distortion and ensure those at the top end of the market will contribute fairly, while those at the bottom will be given a fairer chance to get on the ladder.
“Reducing the Stamp Duty on properties between £125,000 and £250,000 from 3% to 2% will provide significant help to those struggling with the cost of living and help boost the number of property transactions. Whilst we predict a loss to the Treasury of around £400m this will be recouped in additional property transactions. This is, however, a much-needed stimulus to this section of the property market and will lead towards more house building.”
6. The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) will lead the development of 10,000 homes on the former RAF base in Northstowe, near Cambridge, and examine the feasibility of pursuing this on a wider scale.
James Rayner, planning expert and director at Broadway Malyan, said:"Of the major housing projects and overall housing numbers that the Chancellor refers to, Barking Riverside, Ebbsfleet Garden City, Bicester and Northstowe have all been in the pipeline for years. They aren’t new sites, but instead sites that have stalled as a result of landowner issues, inadequate existing infrastructure planning, or a lack of funding for proposed transport schemes. While unlocking those sites helps, it doesn’t solve the need to find a strategic approach to tackle housing need. The numbers mentioned, while notable, will not change the long-term demand for housing and we still need strategic and linked up measures to create more and better liveable places – now and for future generations."
7. The chancellor announced a new Garden City at Bicester containing up to 13,000 homes to be funded with nearly £100m of government spending and loans.
Marnix Elsenaar, head of planning at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, said: “Garden cities are fine in principle but we shouldn’t forget Gordon Brown’s eco towns, which are now nowhere to be seen. What’s crucial is considering what makes a place: jobs, social infrastructure and connectivity. A growing focus on urban living means we should prioritise satellite towns around London and Manchester which have good connections to jobs and where land exists to develop. Speeding up planning, investing in transport and potentially building homes with public money all make sense.”
8. The British Property Federation (BPF) welcomed the allocation of £1bn funding for a second wave of Growth Deals that will allow Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to bid for support for local projects.
Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF, said: “We’re delighted to see a second wave of Growth Deals. However, this is not an enormous sum of money when divided among the LEPs. Competitive bidding processes are time-consuming and resource intensive and many LEPs are run on a shoestring. This must go hand in hand with further encouragement for the private sector to get involved and support their local LEP structure."
9. The UK Green Building Council was highly critical of the government’s failure to link Stamp Duty reforms to energy efficiency incentives.
John Alker, director of policy and communications, said: “For years we’ve been told by Treasury that Stamp Duty cannot possibly be touched. But today’s changes blow a hole in that theory. This represents the mother of all missed opportunities, to link Stamp Duty payments to the energy performance of the property – incentivising householders to take action, and firmly establishing energy efficiency within the house buying and selling market.
“For many households the changes will offer a welcome upfront financial saving when buying a house – but it could so easily have also helped to tackle long-term household energy bills. Osborne could so easily have killed two birds with one stone.”
10. But there was no clarification on the government’s plans for apprenticeship funding following the Richard Review shake-up, disappointing the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
Brian Berry, FMB chief executive, said: “Apprenticeship funding still hangs in the balance with no clarity offered by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement. We had hoped government would publish its response to the May 2014 consultation on funding reforms for apprenticeships but as things stand, we are no closer to understanding if ministers have taken heed of our advice and decided to review their ill-conceived proposals.
“Like many organisations which represent SMEs, we have warned the government that if it implements its apprenticeship funding reforms as proposed, they will greatly detract from the ability and desire of small firms to train apprentices. As two-thirds of all construction apprentices are trained by micro-businesses – that is the very smallest of firms – this is extremely concerning.”
Surprise! It’s no 11. The government announced an extension to the Funding for Lending scheme to allow SMEs access to non-bank finance, and a new £20m package to help first-time exporters.
Diana Montgomery, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, said: “The Funding for Lending extension will benefit our SMEs, as will the increased research and development tax credit for small firms. We’re also keen to learn more of the funding directed to manufacturing research. Finally, we note the £45m package to help SMEs export to fast growing emerging economies in Africa, Asia and South America. However, we feel that the lack of support for existing exporters to expand into closer linked markets is a missed opportunity.”