Chancellor urged to use budget to tackle the ever widening divide between the South of England and the rest of the country

The Chancellor has the opportunity in his budget to tackle some of the long standing economic and social issues that are holding back towns and cities across the Midlands and the North. He and his Party has spoken much of levelling up, but over the past decade of successive Conservative Governments, inequality across the country has risen and a number of long standing issues have been left unchecked.

As Nottingham and the rest of the country looks to emerge from the Covid crisis it’s more important than ever that policy and action from the Government matches the rhetoric.

The Covid effect on the UK has been significantly worse than all of our comparator nations, both in terms of the economic downturn and the Covid death rate. Covid has exposed significant wealth and health inequalities that are sadly more pronounced in the UK than most other developed nations.

The Chancellor has an opportunity now to deal with some of the big structural issues that have been damaging to the health and wealth of vast swathes of the population for far too long. I’d urge the Chancellor to use his budget to begin to deal with regional inequality, health inequality, skills inequality and wealth inequality as well as investing in sustainability and environmental projects.

My key asks of the Chancellor:

  • Make the £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent
  • More investment in regional transport infrastructure. The East Midlands has the lowest transport infrastructure in the country at just £268 per head in 2019 compared to £903 per head in London. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-50592261 
  • Give a pay increase to Britain’s heroic key workers. Our front line key workers such as care workers, nurses, bin lorry crews and park rangers are the true heroes of the Covid crisis and they deserve much more than a pay freeze that will see their income reduce in real terms.
  • Stop the vast majority of Council Tax increases that come from the Government’s adult social care precept by introducing a new, national funding formula for care services for the elderly. For many years Government has committed to introduce a new system of funding, but to date this hasn’t happened. The effect of the 3% adult social care precept is that council tax bills continue to rise at a time when many households are already struggling with their finances. https://www.lgcplus.com/politics/lgc-briefing/councils-must-not-be-forgotten-in-the-council-funding-debate-16-02-2021/
  • Reform business rates urgently and extend the business rates holiday so that businesses have the ability to recover as Covid restrictions ease. For too long high street traders have been punished while online businesses are effectively incentivised unnecessarily. Right now retailers and hospitality businesses with buildings on our high streets in towns and city centres across the country are fighting for survival. The unfairness of the business rates system must be tackled to protect businesses and jobs.
  • Stop the cuts to council services that are happening across the country by honouring the pledge to refund councils in full for the costs of Covid. At this very moment Councils are having to balance their budgets for the next financial year whilst still in the midst of the pandemic and the social and economic consequences of it. Key workers are losing their jobs and essential local public services are under threat of cuts or closure because of the combination of reductions in Government funding over the past decade plus the significant unreimbursed costs of Covid. In Nottingham the unfunded Covid cost currently stands at £29million for this financial year alone.  With Councils legally obliged to set balanced budgets with no deficit each and every year there is no way out of service and job cuts without Government support and right now is the worst possible time to inflict further damage to local communities. https://www.local.gov.uk/ps10-billion-spending-review-investment-needed-protect-and-improve-local-services 

The Chancellor has the ability to tackle many of these long standing issues in his budget. There are huge opportunities post Covid, but the Chancellor must act to reform the policies that hold far too many communities back. I know that many people will be watching closely to see if he does.  

Councillor Sam Webster,
Portfolio Holder for Finance at Nottingham City Council 

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