The tone and good humour in the Chancellor’s delivery of this week’s Spring Statement began with the usual “Red Book” reference – a joke over two years old but still going strong – and was matched by a “Tigger-like” buoyancy which sent the news anchors into a spin in post-statement interviews. One by one politicians were asked to state their A.A. Milne character allegiance. No one plumped for wise Owl but Lord Porter, bravely called himself out as local government’s Eeyore on Afternoon Live with Simon McCoy. Cratus took a pause from the politics to indulge in a cultural reference or two and were struck by Eeyore’s sentiment captured in The House at Pooh Corner which could perhaps speak to the relationships between local and central government:
“That’s what I call bouncing,” said Eeyore.
“Taking people by surprise. Very unpleasant habit. I don’t mind Tigger being in the Forest,” he went on, “because it’s a large Forest, and there’s plenty of room to bounce in it. But I don’t see why he should come into my little corner of it, and bounce there. It isn’t as if there was anything very wonderful about my little corner. Of course for people who like cold, wet, ugly bits it is something rather special, but otherwise it’s just a corner, and if anybody feels bouncy —”
“I didn’t bounce, I coughed,” said Tigger crossly.
“Bouncy or coffy, it’s all the same at the bottom of the river.” – Eeyore
As expected, Mr Hammond did not make any significant tax or spending announcements. Brexit and local government were conspicuous by their absence. This did not go unnoticed online, with Channel 4’s Faisal Islam promptly tweeting a Government paper demonstrating the complete absence of any upcoming departmental allocation of the £1.5bn Brexit funding to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
With a much-reduced duration of speech to the House, the Chancellor delivered these key messages to local government leaders and stakeholders:
- Reducing business rates by over £10bn
- Bringing forward the next business rates revaluation to 2021, moving to triennial thereafter
- Launching call to evidence to understand how best to help the UK’s least productive businesses to learn from, and catch-up with, the most productive.
- Launching call to evidence to help eliminate late payments to SMEs
- Highspeed broadband – allocated £150m plus £25m packages for 5G test areas
- Local Full Fibre Network Programme and Challenge Fund – provision of £95m for 13 geographical locations
- National Retraining Partnership committee has been launched. £29m construction skills fund will open for bids in April 2018.
- Will deliver 3 million apprenticeships through apprentice lev. The Education Secretary will release up to £80m of funding to support SMEs to help address issues around taking up an apprentice
- Devolving more powers to Metro Mayors in the combined authorities noting the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine
- West Midlands deal to deliver 215,000 homes by 2030/31 with £100m grant from Land Remediation Fund
- Brief focus on City Deals with Stirling and Clackmannanshire, Borderlands, Tay Cities Deal, Belfast and the North Wales and Mid Wales all noted in the Spring Statement
- Housing Minister working with 44 authorities who have bid into the £4.1bn housing infrastructure fund – working closely with ambitious authorities who project they will deliver houses beyond the numbers presented in their Local Plans.
- Doubling of the Housing Growth Partnership with Lloyds bank to support small building firms
- Affordable housing delivery in London – £1.7bn to deliver further 26,000 affordable homes by 2021/22
- Sir Oliver Letwin’s inquiry into the shortfall between planning consents granted and housing completions will be submitted at the Autumn Budget.