Last week’s Budget pulled off what I believe is an incredibly important but difficult balancing act. The Chancellor has made clear his plan for bringing back down what is a huge covid-driven increase in our deficit while helping us through to what I believe will be a sustainable economic recovery in the autumn.
It offered certainty to those still on furlough and their employers that this support will remain available until September, similarly for those self-employed who are not working there will be a further two grant payments, with those who started out in 19/20 now included. The business rates holiday will continue for a further three months before rates are gradually reintroduced and for those businesses still struggling to get going as restrictions are lifted they may be eligible for a new Restart Grant worth up to £6,000.
Sadly, and despite huge Government support, the pandemic has resulted in an increase in unemployment. The Government has already launched the Lifetime Skills Guarantee providing Level 3 Qualifications to anyone who needs to upskill, the Kickstart Scheme to tackle youth unemployment aims to help 250,000 people and I look forward to the opening of the Y Wish support hub in Swan Walk, Horsham in mid-April.
In addition to directly supporting training the Budget has doubled the incentive payment for small businesses to take on apprentices and provided a fund of £126 million to triple the number of traineeships.
For many locally, especially young people looking for work and many from the aviation sector currently on furlough, there are concerns about the resumption of international travel and the long term impact on jobs if this is delayed. The Department of Transport has announced a package of support to help ground handlers and Airports, helping to defray losses and allowing them to continue to prepare for the expected increase in international travel later in the year.
Finally, the Chancellor continues the vital work of “levelling up”. Whilst continued investment in the South East is needed, I am a huge supporter of investment to create jobs and opportunity in other regions of the UK more distant from the dynamic effect of London. A wide package of support from the New Town Fund to Freeports to even relocating a large part of HM Treasury to Darlington is designed to boost growth. This works economically – helping to deliver a broader based economy less likely to “overheat” and, by spreading opportunity, overtime it will reduce the constant pressure for growth that has such a profound effect on our area.