Responding to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review statement on Wednesday (25 November), Scott Knowles, chief executive of East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire), said: “The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast that GDP will contract by 11.3% in 2020, the largest fall in output for more than three centuries, underlines the massive scale of the problem we face as a nation.
“It’s important the Government recognises it’s the private sector that will get us back to growth so it must have a proper plan in place to provide the continued support for businesses to get them through this pandemic.
“The £3bn Restart programme, which will help more than one million people who are unemployed for over a year find new work, is a significant intervention that will help both young and old people enter sustainable employment. It builds on the work of the Work & Health Programme, the Kickstart scheme and Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) scheme – three projects the Chamber is helping to deliver.
“If the 2.2% increase to the National Living Wage is going to come into force in April like the Chancellor has promised, he must be prepared to ensure support is in place for the businesses that will have to bear these increases, many of which are in the sectors hit worst by the pandemic, such as hospitality, leisure and retail – otherwise this may only add to the burden of firms already struggling to survive amid continued shutdowns.
“It was positive to hear the Chancellor commit to the new Shared Prosperity Fund matching the numbers involved with current EU structural funds, which have been essential to parts of the country such as the East Midlands, and we await more detail on what the pilot programmes next year will involve.
“Finally, the £4bn pledged on levelling-up and a new UK infrastructure bank to be set up outside London appear to be positive moves, and it’s good to see various Government departments working together on this rather than in siloes.
“However, it must be noted that there have been so many announcements like this over the years by successive chancellors from different political parties, and it is not always clear which funds are new and which ones are repackaged from previous commitments.
“Ultimately, all these pledges amount to absolutely nothing until we see this money spent on the ground. We already know the East Midlands receives less infrastructure investment per head than anywhere else in the country – £268 per capita in 2018/19, just 56% of the £481 national average – and we still await confirmation of the Eastern Leg of HS2. On this one, the proof of the pudding will very much be in the tasting.”