North East England Chamber of Commerce, director of policy, Ross Smith said: “There was relatively good news on business rates, with no rowing back on a revaluation that will be generally positive for our region.
“It was good to hear a commitment to longer term reform, which is badly needed, though this didn’t go far enough.
“We also believe that some of the reliefs on offer to those hit by revaluation should be backdated, given that the delay in bringing it in has meant businesses in the North East have effectively been subsidising those further south.
“We welcome the positive news with regard to skills, with the introduction of T-Levels and retraining for older workers. This is a big issue for our economy, which is already showing the fastest increase in productivity in the UK, and we would hope a sizeable proportion of the pilot funding will come here.
“There were also some positive signals on infrastructure, but we will be seeking more detail and pushing for the best outcome for North East England.
“The biggest disappointment was the lack of measures to support our exporters. They have delivered the best trade record in the country and given the uncertainty they face during Brexit negotiations, there should have been further measures to help them build on this success.”
On employment and skills: Chamber policy adviser, Paul Carbert said: “We were pleased to see the emphasis on technical education and it being no-longer considered inferior to more academic qualifications.
“The funding to improve teaching quality and provide work placements will be helpful but for this to be a success, there needs to be even closer working between FE Colleges and employers.
“We are concerned our students could miss out on the new maintenance loans as there are no National Colleges currently in the North East and little information about the development of new Institutes of Technology.
“The Industrial Strategy pledged to test different approaches to retraining and upskilling experienced workers, and the announcement by the Chancellor of £40 million to fund pilot schemes for this is great news as long as funding comes to the region.”
On regional issues: Jonathan Walker, head of policy and campaigns, said: “Under the previous Chancellor, we got used to Budget speeches repeatedly referencing the Northern Powerhouse project and giving updates on devolution progress. There was very little along those lines in this speech, and what there was focused on regions outside the North.
There were hints that the concept of devolution remains on the Government’s agenda, but it would seem there is significant work to be done to ensure the North East is at the forefront of this.”
On infrastructure: Chamber policy adviser, Arlen Pettitt said: “There were some positive announcements on the digital economy with vouchers to support businesses to access broadband and investment in 5G technology. We also welcome the funding pots to tackle urban traffic congestion, although the exact impact these will have on North East England will only be clear when we get details.
“A £90m funding pot to address traffic ‘pinchpoints’ in the North and a separate £690m for tackling urban congestion may benefit us but again we need more details. The forthcoming paper on supporting the North Sea oil and gas industry will be highly relevant for the excellent businesses we have in this sector that have been hit by the fall in prices over the past two years.
“We don’t understand why the Government has failed once again to address Air Passenger Duty – a vital issue for our regional airports as they seek to grow their competitiveness.”
On exporting: policy adviser, Ben Powick said: “Given the importance of our post-Brexit relationships with other countries this is a missed opportunity for the Chancellor to reassure exporters.
“The North East is a great exporting region and the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the fluctuation of the pound has impacted many exporters, particularly small and medium businesses that have felt first-hand the impact of increased import costs, hitting up-front margins.
“What we needed to hear were optimistic and supportive policies which would help existing and potential exporters access new markets. There should have been a further commitment to overseas trade visits which give exporters of all sizes the chance to meet a wide range of potential customers and trading partners.
“We need to attract the very best talent to our region so the £50m for the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) and over £50m from existing international funds is a real boost. This funding will support fellowships to help attract researchers from emerging powerhouses such as India, China, Mexico and Brazil.”
See below for responses from our policy team.
Arlen Pettitt, Policy Adviser (Transport and Infrastructure)
Paul Carbert, Policy Adviser (Education)
Ben Powick, Policy Adviser (Global)
Ross Smith, Director of Policy