Yesterday, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, set out the national government’s Spring Budget. It was a chance to get us firmly on the road to recovery, to frontload investment in green infrastructure and lay solid foundations to rebuild after the pandemic. As with all national Budgets, we have questions about what it means for Bristol and will continue to look closely at how it might help us to rebuild a more inclusive and sustainable city.
We have worked with Bristol’s businesses and trade unions to call for an extension to the furlough scheme, and so welcome this decision. Further support for self-employed people is also positive, but still unfortunately leaves millions without any support at all. Doubling the payments made to employers who hire new apprenticeships is a step in the right direction. We are proud to be among of the city’s leaders on quality apprenticeships and expect to employ more than 200 apprentices by the end of the month.
It is also welcome to see some £800,000 of new core funding for the Western Gateway, which we founded with Cardiff and Newport to bring more investment to the region – similar to the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine. Hopefully this further show of confidence from the Chancellor will soon be matched by funding for Temple Quarter. We do not want a blank cheque, but instead a bankable partnership – so that we can work together as reliable partners to deliver and get things done for Bristol.
After passing our fifth balanced Bristol budget last month, pressures remain after ten years of national austerity and the finances we inherited. Along with other councils, including the dozen or so said to be in rescue talks with Westminster, we will have to wait until later this year with the Comprehensive Spending Review to hear about Government plans to meet the longer term sustainable funding requirements of local authorities. The Treasury has also confirmed plans for a £30 billion cut to day-to-day spending on health and social care, at a time when there are close to quarter of a million people waiting for treatment. With adult social care making up the largest, and still increasing, proportion of councils’ budgets, the continued absence of a long-awaited plan for reform was another glaring omission.
After clapping our inspiring key workers last year, the Government is sadly ploughing ahead with plans freeze their pay. Westminster is also set to freeze tax thresholds, which is likely to make 1 million low-paid workers worse off. There is also a real-terms cut to statutory sick pay – at a time when around 70% of applications for national support to self-isolate are refused. Another cliff edge has been set for September, when the uplift in Universal Credit for Bristol’s poorest families is now set to expire, against the warnings of leading anti-poverty charities.
Questions are already being asked about the Levelling Up fund, including how Bristol – with dozens of the most deprived areas in the country – has been left out of the top 100 priority areas. We will though be able to bid for investment for transport projects, with an additional bid possible through the West of England Combined Authority – who will also be the lead authority for bids into the UK Community Renewal Fund.