You’ll look for an ideological thread in the Chancellor’s budget in vain. On the one hand he regards it as acceptable to cut disabled benefits whilst cutting Corporation Tax again. On the other hand the sugar tax is an intervention in the free market that met with the immediate approval of Jeremy Corbyn.

Then there was the missed opportunity to increase petrol duty at a time when the slump in world oil prices meant motorists would hardly have noticed. He didn’t do it apparently so as to appease Tory backbenchers who he wants to vote for him for leader. But earlier in his speech he referred to the Office of Budget Responsibility’s warning that leaving the EU would lead to “disruptive uncertainty.” The OBR are right, Osborne was right to refer to the biggest issue that could disrupt his Budget strategy, but it didn’t go down well with many of those Tory backbenchers.


It was a complex, somewhat incoherent Budget which nonetheless had some good things in it for small business and the Northern Powerhouse. I thought the Leeds-Manchester rail line had been given the go-head a few times already but, anyway, it was in the Budget along with creating a 4 lane M62 over the Pennines. News that a case will be developed for a Manchester-Sheffield road tunnel is good news too. Greater Manchester once again gets more powers, this time over justice issues. But ominously whilst elected mayoral deals were announced for some rural areas, there was silence on Leeds, Greater Yorkshire and Cumbria. Knowsley is to get the northern Shakespeare Theatre which is brilliant and a reward for the lobbying work of local MP George Howarth. Perhaps he could play Lear in the first production!


600,000 small businesses will pay zero rates from next year when the payment threshold is lifted £15000. This is even higher than campaigners were hoping for but there was more good news in George Osborne’s red box. The annual rise in business rates will in future be pegged to the consumer price index rather than the higher retail price index. There are also likely to be more frequent reviews. Due to government delays, businesses are still paying tax based on property values dating back to the financial crisis.

The elected mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region are to be given full powers over spending business rates but there is a downside for them and all local government. Town Halls will soon depend on business rates for their income rather than central grant. If Chancellor’s keep reducing the rates, council services will suffer further.

They will anyway because the Chancellor is looking for another £3.5bn of public spending cuts in 2019 as part of his desperate attempt to leap from a deficit of £20bn in 2019 to a surplus of £10bn in election year.

By then, the theory goes, George Osborne will be Prime Minister. There are just the little problems of Brexit, Boris and the good old British economy in the way.




The road to the Northern Powerhouse is proving more rocky than originally anticipated. Rows about elected mayors, the boundaries of Combined Authority areas and the complete lack of democracy in setting it all up means the North presents a patchwork of progress and delay ahead of the crucial Autumn Statement.

It looks as if the resistance of St Helens, Wirral and Halton to an elected city region mayor has been overcome and they look set to join Greater Manchester and Sheffield will devolution deals done this month. In Lancashire Wyre Council are holding out against joining a county wide Combined Authority, but it is in Yorkshire that the bitterest row has broken out.

The leader of Kirklees Council, the area around Huddersfield, has accused North Yorkshire Council of “blatant self-interest and gerrymandering”. David Sheard is referring to the proposals for Greater Yorkshire that have been submitted to the government. This is a plan to bring Hull, York and four North Yorkshire districts together. The rival plan brings together West Yorkshire, based around Leeds but including Craven, Harrogate and Selby. North Yorkshire has refused to give over its transport and highways powers in those three districts. This would put a major curb on the transport and infrastructure role of the Leeds based city region.

Apart from the row over boundaries, there is a feeling that there is now less on the table for Leeds than when it was named a frontrunner for devolution in the summer. Envious eyes are being turned to the deal struck by Sheffield with some concluding that the idea of accepting an elected mayor for Leeds City Region with less powers than Sheffield got may not be worth doing.

It needs to be noted that Leeds City Region has already negotiated a growth deal investment fund of £600m, and it has control of the adult skills budget. It wants powers to manage European funding, an infrastructure levy ability and to run the buses, but talks seem to have stalled.

Even in Greater Manchester there is growing discontent with the total lack of public involvement in the Combined Authority deal. A group has been formed, the Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution, and they will be targeting the wards of the ten leaders of Greater Manchester in next May’s elections.

They claim public awareness is low about the deal which is all about business and growth but very little about issues like social housing. They also worry about the accountability of people doing the deals now and how the city region mayor will be held accountable from 2017.

Concern about this issue was expressed at a high level meeting of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) held in Liverpool this week. It concluded that for all the talk of the Northern Powerhouse there was no urban policy to back it up and answer questions about the unsustainable growth of London, how continuing support for the North over many decades was going to be achieved and what was to be the fate of smaller northern towns with little growth prospects.

One of the speakers at the TCPA meeting was Alan Harding from Liverpool University’s Heseltine Institute. He’ll be leaving in January to become economic adviser to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.