Giving the budget a “six out of ten”, Andy Burnham has expressed concerns that the budget was “a little high on rhetoric and a little bit low on delivery”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced record levels of spending on Wednesday, stating he was to splash over £600bn on a variety of areas – from coronavirus response, to transport and infrastructure.
But what this means for Manchester – and more broadly the Midlands and the north – is a hot-topic.
The Conservatives spent large amounts of time in the run up to the December General Election focused on claiming traditionally Labour seats in the North and Midlands – which led to a string of promises on investment in the areas.
In the wake of his statement yesterday, the Chancellor pledged that his budget will “level up the North West, with better transport connections and a cash-boost to unlock thousands of homes across Manchester”.
Burnham, Manchester mayor, has been critical of Sunak’s announcements, describing the budget as a “modest” start.
Focusing mainly on transport, Burnham reiterated his support of HS2 but expressed concern elsewhere.
“[They] promised the tram to Stockport, to Bolton, promising us a full tram train.
“That’s a lot of promises, and I don’t think what we got today fully delivers the funding to create all those things.
“I don’t think [the budget] gets you to the London style transport system that I’ve called for, and indeed the Chancellor wanted today.”
Burnham also described the budget being “delivered in the shadow of coronavirus”, stating he believed that “it would have been a different budget for the North had we not been in this situation”.
Despite this, he said: “There was no reason why the government couldn’t have followed through on some of the commitment that it’s been making to us [such as] funding to reform buses.
“[This would mean] money we could use to bring down fares and make public transport more affordable.”
Burnham outlined concerns about what coronavirus would mean economically for Manchester, and he said he knew businesses are getting by increasingly without cash flow and surviving.
“Already in tourism, night economy space, and hospitality space it has already been quite badly hit.”
‘I JUST CAN’T STOP WORKING’
With respect to the government providing contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance from day one not day four, and Universal Credit available from day one not day eight, Burnham said: “I worry that it won’t be enough, because some people are living day to day – I think that is a real risk.
“I heard a story recently that a taxi driver who had been in contact with a person that tested positive, he said ‘I just can’t stop working – the minute I stop working is when I’m in trouble.”
The mayor shared that this is not the first time he’d dealt with a virus outbreak, referring to the Swine Flu in 2009.
“The difference between swine flu and now is that there are so many more people working in that insecure, self-employed space.
“A lot of those jobs are people that come into a lot of contact with the public if you think about a taxi driver, or someone that makes food deliveries.”
When it comes to “unclogging” Manchester’s “arteries” – a term the government used to describe pollution issues – he described the Castlefield corridor as a prime example of the issue.
“That’s an artery that is clogged. And yet we’ve been campaigning for platforms 15 and 16.
“We made a big submission to this budget – it’s infrastructure that would have benefitted the whole of North of England.
“I like the rhetoric, but where is the actual delivery here?… [they] really need to stop dragging [their] feet on these investments.”
Despite this, the mayor said he did not want to be “overly negative” – but insisted the Chancellor “needs to show a lot more ambition in the Autumn if we’re going to get much more meaning behind the ‘levelling up’ phase”.
On affordable housing, the government announced £12bn for the UK, which Burnham welcomed – hoping it would go towards the Northern Gateway Project.
30,000 ZERO-CARBON HOMES
“There’s money for brownfield clean up, so it will help me reduce the greenbelt take.
“We have a plan to build 30,000 homes in Greater Manchester for social rent – I really want those to be zero-carbon homes, we want to get on quickly with this.”
However, he critiqued the government’s announcement in this area again.
“It’s a very headline announcement – I hope they will very quickly break it down and tell us what we’re going to get because Manchester’s ready to go.”
On the homelessness epidemic in Manchester, Burnham was frank describing the government’s announcements as “frustrating” because it was unclear “what it means for us”.
He explained that Manchester was already running its ‘Bed Every Night Scheme’, stating he liked the “sound” of Sunak’s pledges on homelessness but wished “they’d have been a bit more direct” on what it means specifically for Manchester.
He conceded that it was good to hear the Chancellor talk about rough sleeping, describing it as “a step-forward”.
Lisa Nandy, Labour leadership candidate, also had a lot to say about what the budget means for the Midlands and the North on BBC’s Newsnight on Wednesday.
“I love what I’ve heard, £600bn in infrastructure investment. The problem is that – as the budget statement went on and the documents were produced – what materialised was nothing of the sort.”
She said the budget announcements included funding that had already been announced, which meant that the government’s new budget was less than £100bn.
LISA NANDY: BORIS’ ‘BETRAYAL’ HAS TAKEN US BACKWARDS
Nandy highlighted that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a lot of promises to ‘red-wall’ communities ahead of the election, many of which they now represent.
She accused the government of “piling money into areas that are already doing well and getting further ahead”, namely areas in London and the south, and “neglecting other areas of the country”.
She added: “Those red wall communities that the Tories won in December, promising to invest, but today they’ve done absolutely nothing of the sort – in fact, they’ve taken us backwards.”
With respect to business, Nandy said she wanted to abolish Local Enterprise Partnerships and make sure that money is given to councils.
“We need to not just level up in terms of moving Treasury jobs to the North, but we are actually investing in people and skills, education, and child poverty – so people can get those opportunities.”
She described the budget as a “real betrayal of those red-wall communities that voted Tory in December”.