This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper on 7th November 2018.
Last week saw the Chancellor, Philip Hammond announce a number of new measures in the Autumn Budget. Several are very good news, starting with a measure I know will be popular locally, £420m to fix potholes in England. This funding boost will allow local authorities to tackle the scourge of potholes, repair damaged roads, and keep bridges safe and open. Local authorities will receive funds quickly, without a burdensome application process, so they can make the road repairs as fast as possible.
Beyond potholes, a £28.8 billion National Roads Fund, paid for by road tax, and including £25.3 billion for the Strategic Road Network was also announced. This is the largest ever investment of this kind and will also help fund the new network of local roads.
Good news as well for the high street, as small businesses will see their business rates bill cut by a third for two years from April 2019. This is on top of previous reductions in business rates in the 2016 Budget. Local high streets will also benefit from £675 million to improve transport links, re-develop empty shops as homes and offices and restore and re-use old and historic properties.
£1.6bn has also been announced to invest in new technology, from nuclear fusion to quantum computing. Particularly good news for the UK Atomic Energy Agency in Culham, who were singled out for an additional £20m to accelerate their research into fusion. £235m is going into research on quantum technologies, £115m into catapult technologies and further investment in blockchain, public health and cyber-security. There will also be £400m extra funding for schools this year, £10,000 for the average primary school and £50,000 for the average secondary school.
Overall this Budget marked a turning point in public finances. Since 2009-2010 the deficit has fallen by four-fifths, from 9.9% to 1.9%. Public debt peaked in 2016-17 and is now falling. On average, spending on public services will grow 1.2% above inflation a year from next year until 2023-24. The economy has grown every year since 2010, and is projected to continue growing in each year of the forecast. The unemployment rate is at its lowest for over 40 years, there are over 3.3 million more people in work since 2010 and the OBR forecasts 800,000 more jobs by 2022.
This is all brilliant news and I am very pleased that our efforts to combat the deficit over the last eight years are showing results. There is still more to do, and the measures announced in this Budget, from increased National Living Wage to further investment in technology, schools and the NHS will all go towards achieving it.