Ten years after the crash this Budget has been sold as the end of austerity. Improved public finance forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility gave the Chancellor a £20bn forecast improvement. Last Monday the Chancellor spent every penny, but not in the areas that need it most; homelessness, children’s services, schools, and public services were all significant omissions.
Core Cities welcome a commitment to improving the productivity gap; cash made available from the National Productivity Investment Fund to increase the Housing Infrastructure Fund by £500m to unlock further homes; scrapping the cap on the amount councils can borrow against their housing revenue accounts; £650m grant funding for social care; £420m to tackle pot holes; and the Transforming Cities Fund providing £2.4bn to support local sustainable projects including new tram, buses and cycling routes.
Yet this is not enough to address the needs of our core cities and city regions. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said that scrapping the borrowing cap will only deliver 9,000 new homes over the next five years. Grant funding for social care is a nice to have, but we need to see this Government bring forward its Green Paper on Adult Social Care so that we can begin to properly address the issues that face us. £240m for transport infrastructure will only assist in small improvements, much like the £420m to tackle pot holes that skims over rather than address the structural issues of our infrastructure.
These funds are a sticking plaster for the major challenges we are facing whilst Brexit continues to be this Government’s singular priority. Furthermore, much of the detail for spending on public services will not become known until the Spending Review next year.
Although Brexit was only uttered once in last Monday’s Budget, it was stalking any optimism of an end to austerity. The warning was clear that the Budget would be threatened by a ‘no deal’ Brexit. What comes next is less clear. In March 2019, the UK will enter unchartered waters and needs a bold, ambitious vision to deliver long-term sustainable growth outside the European Union.
Integral to a positive, post-Brexit economy is the empowerment of the ten Core Cities to seize new opportunities and contribute their full potential to UK plc. Cities and city regions are key drivers of local and regional economies and with the right tools can help to power the UK economy.
Over the past ten years, local public services have faced dramatic cuts in funding which have led to poorer outcomes for our cities and a negative impact on our communities, which has led to increasing the productivity gap. If our cities and city regions all performed at the average of similar cities internationally, it would put £100billion a year into the UK economy and support better outcomes for our communities.
Whilst this Government negotiates Brexit, Core Cities remain clear in its estimation that funds to assist cities and city regions must be protected even under a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Unlocking the economic potential of the ten Core Cities will be a critical factor in delivering long-term sustainable growth for the UK outside the European Union.
Put simply, if core cities succeed, the whole of the UK succeeds.