Rachel Anderson, Assistant Director of Policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce takes a sideways look at the Autumn Statement


When is an announcement not an announcement? Answer: when it appears in an Autumn Statement. That’s not entirely fair, Chancellors like to make big announcements when they stand at the dispatch box holding the nation’s (well some of the nation’s) attention for just over an hour. We’re all interested and invested, after all, this relates to how much money we will or won’t have.

The headlines will be around tax cuts following a 2% cut in National Insurance, the Daily Mail will include something about how pleased pensioners will be, and The Sun will be cock a hoop about the price of beer.

But this will miss a lot of what was significant about the Autumn Statement. There was a lot in it for business both directly, but also signalling the Treasury’s direction of travel. There were some well trailed big-ticket items such as investment in key Tees Valley sectors, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, nuclear and life sciences.

All welcome, but the more interesting part was about the wiring (literally) behind support for those sectors. Industry has been saying for a long time that the electricity grid requires investment and expansion if there is to be growth.

The Northern Echo: -- (Image: Newsquest)

The Autumn Statement was an acknowledgement of that fact by the government, and an announcement that, at the same time, wasn’t a formal announcement that they are going to do something about it – in policy terms, that is a huge leap forward.

Similarly, there was a lot on planning. To most people it is quite technical and dull and, in fairness, the Chancellor announced this after the beer and wine duty freeze so a lot of people would have switched off by then. But these were pretty important, and, again, an acknowledgement rather than an announcement, but measures to speed up the planning process and take some of the red tape away will be welcome.

There were also measures for small businesses. Our beleaguered hospitality sector got a welcome boost with business rate relief for a further year. There were also measures to tackle late payment in supply chains, an issue which can sink otherwise thriving small businesses.

There wasn’t much in the statement specific to the North East, and it is debateable whether it is the growth panacea it was billed as. But there were some good things there, even if they weren’t always announced.