Peter Vinden, managing director of The Vinden Partnership, looks at how the Autumn statement can make a difference to the north of the country
A lot can change in a year, particularly for an economy that is back on the mend. As 2014 draws to a close, the Autumn Statement allows us to reflect on its progress and assess government objectives for the election year.
This requires due attention to the construction industry, one of the sectors hit hardest by the recession. It was handed a lifeline in the Spring Budget with new house building initiatives and increased focus on training its dwindling workforce, but we are yet to see the full impact of these changes.
Despite what could have been an anticlimactic return to growth, construction has made steady progress that was only hampered by some miserable weather at the start of the year. Renewed employment prospects see more looking to construction for viable career paths, leaving us now with the matter of providing strong training programmes and employer incentives.
In terms of construction projects, HS2 was in many respects a diversionary preoccupation that shifted focus away from the necessary improvements to local infrastructure, transport and planning within the regions. However, this could be set to change with yesterday’s Autumn Statement, as the government turns its attentions to the north.
2014 has already been a year of transformative change for the North West, with a devolution deal for Manchester and promises of an inter-city transport network between Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. Osborne has championed the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and recognised that in order for the UK to thrive, we need to invest in major regional economies.
I hope announcements made in the Autumn Statement can help to kick this plan up a gear for 2015. By this I mean greater investment in local rails and roads to improve ease of access for the rising volume of commuters that live and work in the regions (there are quite a few of us!), as well as the “HS3” northern rail links progressing quickly and providing essential support both to their communities and the collective North.
We have the chance to unify sectors and regions that have been neglected throughout the economic downturn with planning that is beneficial for everyone. Substantial urban regeneration in the Big Six UK cities is a vital component of the Northern Powerhouse and the return to full health for construction, bringing with it great scope for improvements to the national economy.
In addition to the plans to remedy the housing shortage, it would be good to see new initiatives for city living, building homes that can be an asset to city centres. Promoting the numerous towns and cities that make this country a diverse and exciting one should be high on the agenda, delivering not just support to their communities but nurturing our international appeal.
Though construction may have been held back by a few unforeseen factors this year, the scale of the Spring Budget’s ambitions are to be commended and continued next year. Likewise, the current momentum enjoyed by the northern regions ought to be sustained in 2015, laying down the foundations for a well-rounded, prospering nation.
While yesterday’s Autumn Statement reflected on this year’s successes, in reality what we have seen in 2014 is the return to growth for construction, infrastructure, transport and regeneration just getting started. We must now look ahead to a future that has everything to play for, making way for more pivotal changes over the next twelve months.