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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Sarah Longlands discusses what to look out for in the March 2020 Budget

Less than 100 days since the General Election and the recent reshuffle means that we are now starting to get us some clues as to the priorities of this new Government. After so many months of Brexit dominating the political debate, we should expect a flurry of new policy announcements in the early days of this new administration. The post Brexit symbolic unveiling of the Government’s new immigration policy is perhaps our first clue as to the direction of travel.

But the real test will be Rishi Sunak’s budget on 11th March. The question we will ask at IPPR North is how seriously the Government will take forward its pledge to ‘level up’, to ensure that all regions of England have the chance to fulfil their potential.

At IPPR North, we believe that power, hoarded uniquely in Westminster, should be passed to regions like the North. By giving stronger decision making powers to local and regional leaders, the evidence shows that you can create stronger economies and a more efficient allocation of public service resources. IPPR North’s new report  published this month argues that we need a new commitment from parliament to devolution, in short, a ‘Devolution Parliament’. The forthcoming budget and Devolution White Paper should include a new commitment to a coherent form of devolution with the requisite level of resources to give regions the chance to show what their economies can do.

Whilst Brexit is ‘done’ the budget may also want to engage with the challenges that leaving the EU will have for areas like the North, particularly the loss of EU Structural Funds. Therefore, we will be watching out for any updates on the prospectus for the Shared Prosperity Fund, particularly questions about what it will fund, criteria and the scale of the funding package that will be made available. It will also be interesting to see if there is any mention of the Government’s plans for the powers that are repatriated from Brussels.

Also worth watching out for is any mention of Green Book reform. The Green book has been challenging for regional development because it encourages investment in areas where the market is already successful with opportunity costs for anywhere else that doesn’t make the cut. IPPR North have written about this particularly in relation to transport investment in the North where our research shows the rate of investment in transport is half that of London. However, reform of the Green Book is no silver bullet, and for many years successive governments have used it as cover for what are ultimately political decisions. Ultimately, it is political will and power that must shift.  

IPPR north will also be watching out for any evidence of new commitments to expenditure. HS2 has been promised and its likely we’ll see more announcements on Northern Powerhouse Rail and the structure of the forthcoming review on the Northern section of HS2. I think it’s probably fair that we’ll also see a chunk of cash made available to support housing delivery, particularly in areas with an oversupply of brownfield land.

But whilst capital expenditure is all very well and good, particularly in a time of low interest rates, the North also needs an end to austerity and a commitment to new revenue spend for social infrastructure. This means giving local leaders the powers to create better, healthier places. It also means support for local schools, local health and social care provision and investment in truly affordable housing. Having just come back from maternity leave, I also believe that investment in the North’s early years is fundamental to securing our future prosperity.

Ultimately what the North and what the country need is a budget which works hard for people. As John Major once said, ‘there is a job to be done, a job of service to the nation’. Now more than ever, we need a Chancellor and a Government who are ambitious. Ambitious to be a Government which invests in building the foundations for a fairer, more inclusive economy and a more regionally equal funding settlement for the future.

Sarah Longlands is Director of IPPR North. She tweets @sarahlonglands.