Autumn Statement: What was announced that’s of interest to Northumberland?

Chancellor Philip Hammond prepares to deliver his Autumn Statement. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Chancellor Philip Hammond prepares to deliver his Autumn Statement. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

There were plenty of announcements in Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Statement today, but what is there that will affect people in Northumberland?

Transport infrastructure: As part of the National Productivity Investment Fund, this will cover £1.1billion to reduce congestion and upgrade local roads and public transport; and £220 million to tackle road safety and congestion on Highways England roads, but ‘more information is needed on spending programmes for infrastructure and housebuilding’, according to Jonathan Walker, head of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce.

This includes funding for the A69 in Northumberland. Mr Walker said: “Tyne Valley companies and employees who use the A69 will welcome the proposed improvements which ought to bring benefits in journey times and reliability.”

However, he added: “We are dismayed that the Government has chosen to delay action the issue of Air Passenger Duty, which has the potential to harm the region’s competitiveness following devolution to Scotland. If the Chancellor is serious about spreading prosperity to all parts of the country this is the sort of issue he must address immediately.”

Broadband: Investment will support the private sector to roll out more full-fibre broadband by 2020/21. Funding will also support trials of 5G mobile communications.

However, even the most basic of broadband connections remains an issue for many Northumberland residents and Cable.co.uk’s Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms expert and director of communications, said: “There still remains millions of households in the UK for whom adequate broadband is a daily struggle. While it is commendable that the Treasury considers broadband provision in the UK worthy of additional government funding, it is utterly absurd that this funding should provide to a minority speeds for which there is no known or useful purpose while so many others struggle for anything approaching basic adequacy.”

On the other hand, Robyn Peat, managing partner at George F White, said: “In terms of digital investment, the Chancellor has pledged a massive £1billion for broadband and 100 per cent rate relief on new fibre infrastructure which is music to the ears of rural businesses up and down the country. George F White has many rural clients so I know first-hand just how many businesses are suffering in terms of productivity and profitably levels due to a lack of good-quality broadband connections.”

NFU (National Farmers’ Union) director of policy Andrew Clark said: “We note the announcement of £700million into full-fibre connections and 5G. We are eager to see what this will deliver for the remaining five per cent unable to access adequate digital infrastructure at the moment – many of whom are in rural areas.”

Housing: £1.4billion will be used to provide 40,000 new affordable homes, including some for shared ownership and some for affordable rent. Another £1.7billion will be used to speed up the construction of new homes on public-sector land.

The Chancellor also announced a large-scale regional pilot of Right to Buy for housing-association tenants, something which has previously sparked concerns from associations and others in Northumberland.

Mr Peat, from George F White, said: “Overall, I think the announcements, especially around infrastructure and housing development, are positive for the growth and prosperity of the UK but we do need to acknowledge the implications for landowners as it’s clear many will feel under increasing pressure to meet the objectives of the Government. It’s important that we don’t forget about landowner rights and protection too and aim to reach a solution that satisfies all parties involved.”

Rural Rate Relief: Rural rate relief will increase from 50 to 100 per cent in April 2017, saving a business up to £2,900 a year. This business rate relief is available to businesses in rural areas with a population under 3,000, where that business is the only village shop or post office with a rateable value of up to £8,500 or the only public house or petrol station with a rateable value of up to £12,500.

Fuel duty: In 2017, fuel duty will remain frozen for the seventh successive year, saving drivers £130 a year on average.

But Quentin Willson, motoring journalist and lead campaigner for FairFuelUK, said: “I’m disappointed that the Chancellor didn’t instantly put money into everyone’s pockets by cutting duty. There’s an immediate benefit to the economy. I’m surprised too given the CEBR (Centre for Economics & Business Research) has said cutting duty by 3p wouldn’t change net tax receipts. This is a lost opportunity from a government still afraid of supporting drivers and roads.”

Personal Allowance: The Personal Allowance is the amount of income you can earn before you start paying income tax. It is currently £11,000 this year, and will rise to £11,500 in 2017-18. The point at which you pay the higher rate of income tax will increase from £43,000 this year, to £45,000 in 2017-18. Once the Personal Allowance reaches £12,500, it will increase in line with inflation.

Minimum Wage: The National Living Wage for those aged 25 and over will increase from £7.20 per hour to £7.50 per hour. The National Minimum Wage will also increase: for 21 to 24-year-olds, from £6.95 per hour to £7.05; for 18 to 20-year-olds, from £5.55 per hour to £5.60; for 16 to 17-year-olds, from £4 per hour to £4.05; for apprentices, from £3.40 per hour to £3.50.

The NFU’s Mr Clark said: “The NFU strongly supports a living wage for all workers, but we have expressed to Government our concerns about the speed of the implementation. Accelerating increases will make this even more difficult for employers and we remain concerned about the lack of consultation with the agricultural and horticultural sector on these measures and how they will affect farm businesses.”

Corporation tax: The main rate of corporation tax has already been cut from 28 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent and will be cut again to 17 per cent by 2020.

The NFU’s Mr Clark said: “The Chancellor’s planned reduction to the rate of corporation tax, while providing benefits to the supply chain, does little to help the majority of farm businesses that are unincorporated. Farm businesses need to be able to retain and invest profits in infrastructure and equipment to improve their productivity and the tax system needs to recognise and support this, as it does other parts of the economy.

Universal Credit taper: In Universal Credit, as a person’s income increases, their benefit payments are gradually reduced. The taper rate calculates the reduction in benefits as a person’s salary increases. Currently, for every £1 earned after tax above an income threshold, a person receiving Universal Credit has their benefit award reduced by 65p and keeps 35p. They will now keep 37p for every £1 from April 2017.