Stephen Church, EY’s North West Managing Partner, comments on what the Budget means for the North West

4th March 2021, 10:19 am

Everyone was expecting this Budget to be a biggie, and the Chancellor did not disappoint. With a focus on COVID-19 support measures and recovery for businesses and individuals, the wider levelling up agenda could potentially have been put on the back burner but that was not the case.

The North got a decent showing with the Chancellor’s big ticket announcements of the UK Investment Bank and Treasury North going to Leeds and Darlington respectively.

The fact that Treasury is setting up camp in the North and that a significant new financial institution is being set up here will pay long-term dividends. The hope is that where the Treasury leads, others will follow, and we will see yet more of Whitehall decamp to other Northern towns and cities.

Here in the North West we didn’t do too badly – the most significant announcement being that the Liverpool City Region will be home to one of eight Freeports across the country. This is a huge boon for the area, creating a regional hub for trade, innovation and commerce.

It is important that our smaller towns are supported in the recovery if we are to ensure levelling up does not lead to a two tier North so it was heartening to see that Preston, Workington, Bolton, Cheadle, Carlisle, Leyland, Southport, Staveley and Rochdale will receive £211m from the Towns Fund. It won’t solve all their problems but it is a recognition of work to be done across the country’s towns.

On transport infrastructure, the customary nod to the importance of HS2 and Northern Power Rail was notable by its absence – that might be a red flag or it could just be that the Chancellor felt levelling up had been well covered by his headline announcements.

However, Greater Manchester will receive £8.6m in capacity funding to support preparations for intra-city transport settlements and Liverpool City Region will receive £5.6m.

The Chancellor also announced that £135m will be given to accelerate the start of construction on the A66 Trans-Pennine upgrade to 2024, building on his announcement in November that the construction phase will be halved to five years as part of Project Speed. The A66 is essential to the continued development of the North’s economy and straddling the country from east to west, it carries high levels of freight traffic, accounting for 25% of HGVs compared to the national average figure of 12%.

All in all, a fair showing and fair spread for the North West and certainly the wider North, as the Government demonstrates it has listened to the calls for fairness and equitability in investment decisions. Here’s hoping this is just the start and we will see momentum around levelling up continue to build.

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