It’s that time again. Up and down the country, business and civic leaders have been dusting off their begging bowls and knocking on the door of Number 11.
Except, we all sort of knew there would be very little to go around. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens all made their pitch and it sounded great, but they’d have been gutted had it all been delivered and if Mr Hammond had taken away their stick. A stick that keeps getting bigger.
The housing market was probably the most significant winner. The abolition of Stamp Duty for first time buyers and more funding available for housing delivery will (maybe if we’re lucky) get some more houses built. However, the Green Belt issue remains elusive and, whilst every Conservative vote in the House of Commons counts, it was ambitious to think it would be addressed today.
Nevertheless, the West Midlands has done quite well – despite downgrades to growth and productivity in the national economy.
The pre-announced ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ was well-received on Monday and means that the Midland Metro can be extended as hoped. There will even be around £50 million left over to supplement the WMCA’s tight budget. With only £1.7bn to be distributed nationally, the West Midlands’ £250 million is quite a coup for the region.
We also learnt that a second devolution deal has been given the green light, although exact details are scarce. We are certainly expecting the further devolution of planning powers although what form that takes is still murky – expect various Local Authorities to fight back on this front.
Despite Manchester having the most extensive and wide-ranging devolution deal, the West Midlands has been quickest out of the blocks on a second. This is partly politics, with Andy Street able to open channels of communication more readily than his Labour counterparts, but also – probably – a bit of anti-Osborne sentiment.
With George Osborne’s pet Northern Powerhouse project getting the most favourable treatment during the last government, May and Hammond have decided to elevate the Midlands Engine to priority number one – despite the removal of ‘Erdington-lad done good’ Nick Timothy from Number 10.
This is the political version of ‘cooties’ (a dangerous affliction that renders anything the subject touches toxic).
With further funding for pilot projects to tackle homelessness in the region, Andy Street can be rightfully pleased with this Budget. His campaign, along with homelessness charity St Basil’s, has made legitimate progress in this area and with £28 million to spend across Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands more can yet be made.
Along with key national policies, such as funding for the NHS and a housing safety drive, the West Midlands has done well. Whether this the direct result of having a Mayor, I’m not sure, but I suspect there will be a thank you card in the post to Mr Hammond this evening. Or at least a John Lewis gift voucher.