There wasn’t a lot to celebrate in the 2017 budget, indeed we might say there wasn’t a lot in the 2017 budget, full stop, but we have found “two peanuts of hope in the crackerjack box of despair” (Homer Simpson 2006). We will start with them and then offer a quick Community Links perspective on the three issues which have dominated all the other media commentary.
First, the London Devolution Agreement
The Agreement was announced and published alongside the main budget statement. It included:
- Co commissioning of criminal justice services with substantial potential for reducing offending and for improving services for victims and offenders. To be finalised in June
- Devolution of a number of health care powers. Further details expected next week
- Devolution of the adult education budget from 2019/20 and the promise of “greater influence” over careers services.
- Transfer of the budget for the Work and Health programme and a further commitment to a “strategic dialogue” on employment support.
- Powers to pilot a new Development Rights Auction model for funding future infrastructure projects. This model is likely to provide very significant new funding.
There is lots more detail expected in the coming weeks but the headlines are encouraging with more power and more resources invested closer to home. Now the responsibility passes to London’s leaders for ensuring that devolution does not stop there but that local communities are fully involved in designing, developing and delivering these important services
Second, the “next generation” passage from the Chancellor’s speech
“If you talk to people from any background and any part of the country about their hopes and their aspirations for the future, you’ll hear a recurring concern for the next generation.
Will they have the qualifications to find a job?
Will they have the skills to re-train as that job changes, and changes again, over a working lifetime?
Will they be able to get on the housing ladder?
To save for a pension?
In short, the question that concerns so many people is “will our children enjoy the same opportunities that we did”?
Mr Deputy Speaker, Our job is to make sure that they do.
That’s why we are investing in education and skills to ensure that every young person, whatever their background and wherever they live, has the opportunity to succeed and prosper. The proportion of young people not in work or education is now the lowest since records began that’s a good base from which to build. But it is only by equipping them for the jobs of tomorrow that we ensure they will have real economic security.”
We are with you on all this Mr Hammond, now what can we do about it? A Bill of Rights for the Next Generation perhaps?
Finally our view on the three topics that have attracted most attention:
Business rates: The coverage has focused on the prosperous areas that are of most interest to Conservative MPs. In Southwold for instance a sausage roll will apparently soon cost £8.17 if the butcher raises prices in line with the rates increase. Business rates are in fact a problem for any area where property prices have gone up which, of course, they have in east London, and it is a particular issue in areas which have been undergoing regeneration like Canning Town and Stratford. We don’t yet know the likely impact of the measures that the Chancellor announced yesterday but this is seriously alarming and an issue to which we will return.
NI increase for self employed. “Hammond hits white van man” screamed the Metro front page yesterday morning. “Hammond hits highly paid barristers and consultants” would have been more accurate. As the Resolution Foundation have pointed out this is a progressive measure. Low earning child minders and window cleaners in Newham will benefit. The messaging was dreadful but the change is good.
Social care: No amount of spin could make £2b over 3 years for social care and £450m for the NHS sound like anywhere near enough to turn around the crisis in health and social care. Most expert analysis suggests it will fill less than half the gap. Of course Conservative back benchers worried about “trolleys in corridor” stories in their local papers know this too. What will they do now?