Northern business and political leaders call for investment commitment ahead of budget

As Philip Hammond prepares to delivers his Budget today, business leaders in the north have made a final call to ensure the government continues to commit and invest in the Northern Powerhouse.

Influential figures responsible for ensuring the north continues to thrive have reminded the chancellor not to forget about the government’s pledge to northern regions on the day he sets out his budget plans to the House of Commons. Earlier this week Theresa May announced a new £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund which would be made available for improving transport in city regions and spending on industry research and development. Leaders want to ensure that this fund is built on and invested wisely.

Mike Perls, regional chairman for the Institute of Directors (IoD), North West, said: “(We) want to see a recommitment to the Northern Powerhouse initiative particularly with a focus on developing our infrastructure and transport links as well as further investment in our growing science, energy and technology sectors. Representing the views of our members here in the North West, the IoD has called on the chancellor to prioritise tax changes to boost entrepreneurial companies when drawing up his forthcoming budget. This includes raising the annual investment allowance cap to £1m, and relieving restrictions on reliefs for investing in start-ups and growing companies.”

Earlier this week, a Treasury spokesman defended government spending in the north after new figures showed the north of England had seen the biggest cuts in spending over the past five years. The Treasury stated how every region was “funded fairly” and highlighted that the government had provided the Northern Powerhouse with a further £2.25bn in extra funding through devolution deals.

Commenting on the importance of today’s budget, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s director, Henri Murison, said: “The case for investment is clear, because as well as transport across the north we know getting around within cities by tram and bus is also vital so young people, for instance, can access apprenticeships or work placements.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool city region metro mayor Steve Rotheram has urged the government to go beyond its devolution rhetoric and matching it with concrete actions in the budget. Among the mayor's key priorities are major infrastructure projects spanning rail investment, digital connectivity, tidal energy, housing and homelessness, and skills.

Rotheram is calling for greater flexibility on skills expenditure including more local control over the underspend on the national apprenticeship levy. "Allowing us to spend money paid by businesses from the city region within the city region is both logical and efficient," said Rotheram. "It's such a small ask, and for that reason it really does provide a measure of the government's willingness to relax the Whitehall-knows-best mantra," he said.

Elsewhere, Andrew Cowan, chief executive of Manchester Airport is calling for the chancellor to announce more investment to promote greater connectivity. “It has never been more important for people and businesses across the whole country to have easy access to global markets," said Cowan. "We are demonstrating our commitment to this with our £1bn investment in transforming Manchester Airport, which is underway now and will give the north the world class gateway it deserves, at no cost to the Exchequer.

“At the same time is it vitally important that the government plays its part in unlocking the north’s full potential. Key to that is large-scale investment in transport infrastructure through projects like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), which will not only connect the north’s great towns and cities with each other, but link them to the world’s most important economies by delivering dramatically improved connectivity to key assets like Manchester Airport.

"The announcement earlier this year of a £300m 'downpayment' on work to join-up the development of HS2 with NPR was a vital step in the right direction. A further commitment to NPR in this year’s budget would give businesses, investors and visitors the confidence that the north is finally going to get the infrastructure it needs to compete on the global stage."

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