BUDGET: Reaction from the North East

George Osborne.

George Osborne.

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Politicians and other people have been responding to today's budget and its impact on the North East.

Chancellor George Osborne's 2016 Budget Statement included plans to improve roads in the north; Invest £20million a year of new funding in a Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy; more money for flood defences; a capital gains tax cut; a new 'lifetime ISA' will be introduced for people under 40; plans to upgrade the A66 and A69; the introduction of a new sugar tax; and fuel, beer and cider duty frozen. Here are some of the views from people in the North East.

Berwick’s Conservative MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan

She has praised measures outlined in today’s budget to boost rural communities, particularly in areas on which she has campaigned, such as fairer funding packages for rural schools. She says that the freeze in fuel duty is also welcome news to those in rural Northumberland for whom a car is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Mrs Trevelyan said: "I am pleased that the Chancellor understands that, for so many of us who live in rural areas, we need our cars to get around. It is normal when oil prices drop for fuel duty to rise, but the Chancellor has understood our concerns and announced a freeze which is welcome news. Our rural communities also have many more small businesses, who will be delighted to hear the news that we will permanently double small business rate relief and increase the maximum threshold for relief from £12,000 to £15,000 meaning 600,000 small businesses will now never pay business rates again – a saving of up to almost £6,000 which makes a huge difference.

"The lifetime ISA is such a good deal for those under the age of 40, many of whom haven’t had such a good deal from pensions. You won’t have to choose between saving for your first home or saving for your retirement – the Government is going to give you money to do both. For every £4 saved, the Government will give you £1, and the ISA limit for everyone has been increased to £20,000. With the income tax threshold being raised again, people will be able to keep even more of the money they earn and the self-employed will receive savings from the abolition of Class 2 National Insurance contributions."

The Chancellor also used the Budget to announce a new levy on the soft drinks industry so they reduce the sugar content of their products to tackle childhood obesity. The money raised will be used to double sports funding in primary schools and fund longer school days in secondary schools that offer their pupils a wider range of activities, including extra sport.
Anne-Marie, who has been in favour of Government intervention in this area, said: "I have been battling for this measure for many years, and taken some flack for it too! I strongly believe that we must drive change on the consumption of sugar for the long-term health of the next generation. Obesity is a killer and we have to do better for our kids' futures."

Leader of Northumberland County Council, Grant Davey (Labour)

The leader of Northumberland County Council has given a cautious welcome to announcements made in today's budget. Chancellor George Osborne confirmed funding of £75m to draw up plans to improve road links between the north east and north west, which could include dualling the A69 west of Northumberland. There was also an announcement of £130m for road repairs across the north following the winter storms and flooding, which badly affected the county’s road network.

Mr Davey said: "These were two positive announcements which we hope will benefit Northumberland and the wider region. We have been calling on the government for some time to progress work on the A69 and welcome the possibility of a survey. Our aim as an administration has always been to help with the dualling of the road, not just in terms of road safety, but also in terms of creating a much improved link between the M6 and the A1. We’ve also been lobbying hard to get fair funding to help repair our infrastructure following the winter storms.

"However we are keen to see the detail as soon as possible in terms of exactly what is proposed, along with timescales. As with all these announcements the devil is in the detail and we look forward to getting this at the earliest opportunity. But despite these positives I remain very concerned at Mr Osborne’s comments that this country faces an extra £3.5bn in public spending cuts by 2020, as this would severely affect our ability to deliver rural services."

Chairman of Policy North, Stephen Purvis

He said: "This was George Osborne’s eighth budget, and had some really important content for the North East. One of the most headline grabbing items for the North East was the very positive news for road improvements, with a firm commitment to upgrade both the A66 and A69 as part of a £230m package. Our roads are crucial connections for businesses in the North East and improving our infrastructure is key to region.

"Secondly, the Chancellor announced that along with the Justice Secretary, he was exploring giving the Mayor of Manchester some Justice powers. This is a huge step forward for the current programme of devolution into the social justice agenda and could have a big impact in our own region in the future. I am sure the Policy North team will be looking into this exciting development further.

"Thirdly, the Chancellor reaffirmed his commitment to ensure 100% of local government business rate revenue will be kept and spent by local Councillors – however at the same time he announced there will be cuts to business rates for SMEs. There will be big questions how this will work in practice for the North East and how a workable balance between business and local government finance can be struck.

"Lastly, I was very pleased to see the Chancellor’s focus on schools and skills. These are hugely important issues to the North East and one that is at the forefront of Policy North’s agenda. The Chancellor announced all schools will become academies by 2020, with extra funding to be provided to do this, alongside a review of the schools funding formula which could have a big impact on places like Northumberland and Durham which currently lose out. Perhaps most interesting was the announcement that Sir Nick Weller will be leading a report on transforming education in the Northern Powerhouse."

North East LEP board member and mayoral candidate, Jeremy Middleton

He said: "The extra focus on improving northern schools is fantastic news. For the North East to reach its full potential we need to ensure our young people have the skills they need to get the jobs that exist. Moving all schools towards academy status can free up fantastic heads to create fantastic schools, but will only achieve limited results without a comprehensive programme of business engagement delivering work experience and careers guidance for each and every student.

"A number of other measures announced by the Chancellor should be positive for the region. In particular improving our links to the North West by dualling the A69, and supporting our manufacturing sector with tax cuts for the energy industry. I was disappointed not to see protection for Newcastle Airport from potentially aggressive Scottish tax policies, and will continue to call for matching powers for the North East."

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