The Chancellor of the Exchequer told the Commons on Wednesday that his latest Budget was focused on recovery from the pandemic and helping business raise wages and improve skills and productivity.
Measures announced included a hike in the minimum wage, which will increase to £9.50 an hour next year, up from the current £8.91.
Help for businesses was focused on the High Street, with particular interest in retail, leisure and hospitality.
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Businesses in the sectors will receive a 50% business rates discount, and be able to claim a discount of up to £110,000 and tax relief for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries will be extended for two years.
Alcohol duty is being ‘radically’ simplified, with a new system designed around the principle of ‘the stronger the drink, the higher the rate’, and a “draught relief’ aimedat getting people back into pubs and bars will see a lower rate of duty on draught beer and cider.
And a planned rise in fuel duty will be cancelled because of pump prices being at their highest level in eight years.
Public spending commitments include an extra £2.2billion for courts, prisons and probation services, including £500 million to reduce the courts backlogs and £300million towards “A Start for Life” parenting programmes, with an extra £170million by 2024/25 going into paying for childcare.
Mr Sunak unveiled a raft of measures for the North East – including the establishment of a £14million Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy in Sunderland and £310million over five years to transform local transport networks in the Tees Valley.
“Today’s budget delivers on our commitment to level up the country and harness the skills and talents of communities across the North East of England,” he said.
There will also be money for eight Community Diagnostic Centres in the North East, Yorkshire and Humber; new funding for the expanded Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, and strategic road upgrades including the A66 Trans-Pennine.
Businessman Ian Wong, who runs Asian Fusion restaurant in Sunderland, was particularly pleased with announcement on business rates, which he said would be a welcome relief as businesses recovered from the impact of Covid.
“Overall, it is a very, very positive budget,” he said.
"The 50 per cent reduction in business rates is very, very welcome and I think it will bring everybody into a much less stressful position.”
Ian said that although the minimum wage rise would mean increased costs for business, he believed that would be made up for by a boost to the economy: “There is a little wage increase, but then the more people earn, the more they go out and spend,” he said.
Sunderland Fans’ Museum founder Michael Ganley was particularly happy with the reduction in duty on draught beers.
Matchday hospitality is the museum’s lifeline: “The bar is our one source of income and draught beer is far and away our biggest seller, so that is a big positive,” he said.
It was too early to say whether the tax relieft extension would apply to the museum: “We are not funded by the Government like other museums,” he said, “but if it does apply, it would be a big, big help.
"Any tax relief is welcome.”
And today saw given the official green-light to plans for a Teesside Freeport, a project expected to deliver 18,000 jobs for local workers over the next five years, and which includes Hartlepool.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen welcomed what he called “the second Budget for Teesside”: “Since Rishi stood at the Dispatch Box in March and announced that Teesside would be home to the UK’s biggest freeport, we’ve been working flat out to make our plans for the Teesside Freeport a reality, and I’m delighted they’ve been given the final green-light, which also means we’ll be the first freeport in the country,” he said.
And Hartlepool MP Jill Mortimer said: “This Budget will make a real difference to people in Hartlepool, helping working families with the cost of living, improving transport connections, regenerating communities, and improving health outcomes
“I was elected on a promise to level up and improve opportunity for people in Hartlepool – and today’s Budget shows how this Government is delivering on that promise as we build back better.”