Over the last few weeks there have been a number of significant announcements made that, on the face of it, answers a number of key issues raised in our Campaign for Business.
Our members called for the government to continue support for HS2 and look at integration with new East-West transport links in the North of England (HS3). Check – the Higgins report of 27th October sorted this.
Our members called for greater devolved powers from Whitehall – the favoured model being an elected mayor over an enhanced Combined Authority. Check – the announcement on 3rd November was a real game changer and in reality the proposal looks a little like a hybrid of the two.
Our members wanted more road investment – often the poor relation of infrastructure investment. Check - the announcement this week of £15bn in the Autumn Statement is definitely a step in the right direction though like all similar “coming soon” trailers we await further details.
With recent concerns being raised about the robustness of UK power supplies and the implied threat of outages this Winter this issue has risen in prominence in politicians minds. Members have again been vocal in expressing their concerns over the parlous state of the UK’s energy infrastructure and have made calls for longer term planning to be put in place. Again this chimes with recent thinking and announcements.
So the big ticket stuff is certainly being looked at and responded to. In fact at this rate we should have the entire Campaign sorted by Christmas.
Let’s just take the announcement around the elected mayor. At first glance this is not only a big deal for Greater Manchester but is a huge step in the right direction in answering a number of our campaign calls. Just stop and think for a minute though about what hasn’t been said in connection with the announcement. What happens with the interim mayor – ie the person who will be holding the reins until 2017 when the first mayoral election takes place? What powers will they have and how can we make sure businesses have their say on the issues that affect them? Whilst the current proposal is definitely a product of this government (with a willing local audience) would a change in government have an impact on these proposals? We know that local taxation is a big issue with members, and the Chancellor has categorically denied that the mayor would be able to control business rates – but is this missing a trick? The list and debate goes on.
What is clear is that the headlines sound and indeed look good and promise much but the work has to go on to make sure that what we end up with at the end of the day is what we actually want. The job is far from over and we mustn't fall into the trap of taking our foot off the gas or letting those in power making the announcements think it's job done. It isn't and wont be for some time to come.