This afternoon saw the Chancellor delivering his Autumn Statement to parliament. In a speech that included increases to Universal Credit and the National Living Wage, there were some major announcements that will bring big benefits to the public sector.
Devolution has been a key topic of conversation for a long time, across the entire UK public sector. With the financial difficulties that councils are under, as well as the fact that the decision to cancel HS2 was taken out of the hands of local leaders despite a lot of the important groundwork already being done by councils, the call for the further devolution of power and funding is stronger than ever before.
In advance of the Autumn Statement, key representatives of UK local government released a statement that, amongst other things, called on the government to take action that would give more power to councils regarding spending. Part of the statement read:
“This is not just about money either. We would like to see existing funding devolved locally and councils given the powers and responsibilities they need to join up different pots and projects.
“Councils have already made a wide range of savings through innovation and shared services. They are now at the point of having to make tough decisions about further cutting valued services and increasing council tax and fees and charges.”
Through his Statement, the Chancellor announced four new devolution deals, with two of them being mayoral deals for Greater Lincolnshire, and Hull and East Yorkshire. Non-mayoral deals have also been agreed with Lancashire and Cornwall. In response to the news, Hull City Council leader Mike Ross said:
“I have always said that I would only want to proceed with a devolution deal for Hull and the East Riding if we felt it was going to be the best deal for the area.
“It is clear, after a lot of hard work putting the case forward for what this area needs, that we have managed to get the government to put forward a deal that will help meet the needs of the city and East Yorkshire.”
Describing what is ‘amazing news’ for Lancashire, Leader of the County Council, Cllr Phillippa Williamson also commented on this devolution news:
“The announcement by the government today is amazing news, and shows the faith the Secretary of State Michael Gove and Levelling Up Minister Jacob Young have in our plans.
“Alongside my fellow leaders, I truly believe the time is now for a devolution deal for Lancashire.
“We want to ensure our residents benefit from a boost in funding as well as extra powers to tackle the issues that matter most to the people of Lancashire.”
Business and local communities are also set to benefit from the Autumn Statement, as the Chancellor announced a host of measures that will boost private investment in communities, as well as creating new job opportunities for local people. This is to be done through the creation of three new advanced manufacturing Investment Zones in Greater Manchester, East Midlands, and the West Midlands, with a combined private investment generation of around £3.4 billion. Alongside this, approximately 65,000 high-quality, skilled jobs are to be created.
Across the border in North Wales, another Investment Zone has been confirmed by the Chancellor with Wrexham and Flintshire set to benefit from £80 million of Welsh Government support. Jeremy Hunt stated that he will be visiting the area tomorrow (23rd November), and key support for the project has come from Vaughan Gething, Welsh Economy Minister, and Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove.
This announcement was accompanied by the news that the five-year Investment Zone programme, as well as freeport tax reliefs, will be doubled to ten years, with this also bringing a new Investment Opportunity Fund. The fund is to help support Investment Zones and Freeports with the securing of specific business investment opportunities, with funding being worth £150 million.
Alongside these major announcements, the Chancellor reiterated his desire to achieve greater public sector productivity by cutting bureaucracy, as reported by Public Sector Executive on Monday morning. Developing on this goal, Jeremy Hunt outlined how he wants to see a 0.5 % increase in productivity across the sector every year.
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