Hunt’s autumn statement focuses on growth whilst accelerating northern devolution
The prime minister recently met his pledge to halve inflation by the end of this year. Having met the target, today’s autumn statement from the Chancellor is a sign that the government are prepared to spend more and draw further dividing lines with the Labour party as we near a general election.
Jeremy Hunt opened the statement with a commitment to capitalise on the falling rate of inflation through “cutting tax, reducing debt and rewarding growth”. Incentivising growth in the economy was a running theme throughout his remarks, from planning reform to new devolution deals, particularly for northern regions.
During the Chancellor’s speech to the House of Commons, the government issued their new “Getting Great Britain building again” strategy for speeding up infrastructure delivery and housebuilding through various reforms to the planning system. We all know how much planning reform is desperately needed, particularly as organisations and experts repeatedly point to the fact that our low building rates continue to stifle economic growth.
In a package of planning measures announced by the Chancellor, reforms include new money for local authorities and their respective housing funds, permitted development rights for property conversions, and reforms to nutrient neutrality rules which were recently voted down in Parliament. In another major measure announced in the statement, local authorities will be allowed to recover the costs of planning applications, but in order for such costs to be recovered, the local authority must process the applications against much faster timescales. If they fail to meet the condition, fees will be refunded to the applicant themselves.
With these reforms, a major question remains: how will the government ensure that local authorities can meet these conditions with their existing planning capacity? It has been widely reported across the country of planning departments increasingly struggling to process applications due to constrained resources and limited staffing.
On devolution, there was good news to unpack from the statement for those living in the north. The expansion of devolution will continue with four new regions set to receive deals to set up combined authorities and install a directly elected mayor. Hull & East Riding, Greater Lincolnshire and Lancashire are three northern regions set to receive new devolved powers from Westminster. Cornwall will also receive a devolution deal, with more regions in the south of England earmarked for devolved powers in the coming years as the expansion continues nationwide.
The net zero transition
Green industries also welcomed several positive announcements aimed at keeping the sector competitive and being at the forefront of innovation on the transition to net zero. More money will be invested in the “industries of the future” such as advanced manufacturing and green tech, alongside additional support for the Green Industries Growth Accelerator. There are real growth opportunities for green industries, particularly in the north of England where the region is already generating half of the country’s renewable energy.
Final thoughts: The government are getting into campaign mode
Watching the autumn statement, I felt a real sense that the government are gearing up for an election campaign, with more spending commitments and visibly clear dividing lines with the opposition.
With cuts to national insurance for workers and businesses, increased tax relief for businesses, and retaining the triple lock on pensions, the fall in inflation has clearly given the government some free reign to make more spending commitments.
But what about growth? It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the economic growth figures for the next two years have been revised down. The Chancellor hailed a 0.7% rate of growth for 2024 in his speech, but this is a sharp drop from the previous forecast of 1.8%. When it comes to the general election campaign, the government will need to get real on turbocharging growth through rapidly increasing new development and housebuilding, exploring further growth incentives for our emerging industries whilst unlocking new investment for the regions showing the most promise, particularly in the north.