With a month to go until the first Budget of the new Government, North East England Chamber of Commerce has urged the Chancellor to include measures to narrow the economic gap between the North and South of the country.
Representing over 3,000 businesses across the region, the Chamber has demanded long-standing infrastructure projects are part of the Budget announcement, to ensure companies have the essential connections to succeed and grow.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “The Government has pledged to increase growth and productivity in regions such as ours. If they are serious about this then the time for action is now.
“Infrastructure investment will be an essential part of this. We are firm supporters of both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) as drivers of economic growth and as opportunities to support more sustainable travel. Presenting spending on northern infrastructure as an alternative to HS2 is a false dichotomy. These schemes will deliver the most when they are delivered together, swiftly and in full.”
The Chamber is spearheading an ambitious campaign Fast Track East Coast, to attract investment in the regional rail network in particular the East Coast Mainline (ECML). This important artery linking North and South England is currently struggling with capacity issues especially between Northallerton, Newcastle and Berwick. With both HS2 and NPR planned to join and provide onward services into the North East via ECML, the need for improvements is of the utmost importance.
In the Budget letter James Ramsbotham said: “Our Fast Track East Coast campaign continues to demonstrate the value of this route to businesses and we call on you to recognise this by committing to capacity, reliability and station improvements before problems on ECML become unmanageable.
“On a more local level, we are encouraged by recent pledges from Government to support the development of rail links between Newcastle, Blyth and Ashington. We believe this scheme has the potential to radically improve the economy of South East Northumberland and beyond. It should be delivered in totality with good quality onward connections via other forms of public transport.
“Alongside this, the importance of road connectivity must not be overlooked. While we support efforts to decarbonise transport in our region as much as possible, our road network continues to provide vital links for commuters, visitors and businesses alike.
“Ongoing support is needed from Government for essential safety and reliability improvements to the A66 and A69 trans-Pennine routes to enable better port and freight access, the A19/A189 Moor Farm junction and the new Tees Crossing, as well as the development of plans for A1 dualling to Scotland.”
The Chamber letter also urged the Chancellor to give clarity on Brexit. “This Budget will also be the first since the UK’s formal departure from the European Union. While 31st January may have been a significant date politically, so many Brexit-related questions remain unanswered that businesses continue to face tremendous uncertainty and are fearful of a cliff-edge situation at the end of the year. The Government may believe that they have delivered on their election promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’ but it is vital for the future of so many North East businesses that the Government works to ‘Get Brexit Right’.