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Autumn Statement: North West business leaders react

Business leaders in the North West have welcomed Chancellor Philip Hammond’s commitment to boosting UK infrastructure in the Autumn Statement.

Investment in transport and better connectivity for businesses were among the key points of the MP’s speech and a number of commercial experts have hailed these measures as good news for the region.

David Lathwood (pictured above), lead director at agent JLL’s North West division, says: “I’m sure many in the North West will welcome Philip Hammond coming good on the well-trailed additional funding for infrastructure projects. Megaprojects like HS2, the Sheffield-Manchester tunnel and eventually HS3 will all add extra capacity in the long term, what has been missing has been a strategy to help solve the here and now – particularly on the road networks.

“Manchester, is among the most congested cities in the UK and despite a fantastic development story that supports much of the North West economically, it still operates with a compact inner core. We’re keen to see some of this infrastructure capital come to the region to help attract investment and spread the strong residential and commercial markets out to fringe areas.”

Mark Rathbone, partner and member of the supply chain and logistics sector at Brabners, echoes Lathwood’s sentiments and stresses the importance of the infrastructure investment being distributed evenly across the country.

Chancellor Philip Hammond

Chancellor Philip Hammond

He says: “It’s vital the £1.1 billion investment in local transport networks is distributed evenly across the UK. Historically there’s been an inherent imbalance in public infrastructure spending, with the North West receiving around a tenth per head of what London and the South East does, and this cannot continue. When you consider the cost of the Crossrail scheme is £14.8bn, £1.1bn across local transport networks still pales in comparison.

“If Mr Hammond is committed to continuing the Northern Powerhouse agenda introduced by his predecessor, as he says he is, he needs to deliver on his promise to rebalance the government’s approach to investment in regional infrastructure. Without it, we run the risk of losing the momentum created over the past 18 months.”

Dean Ward, technical director and co-owner of Birkenhead-based design and manufacturing firm Evoke Creative, has praised the Chancellor for his measures to support Britain’s tech sector but believes more details about the infrastructure investment should have been disclosed.

He says: “The one thing all businesses across the North West were hoping for was a robust commitment to, and detailed breakdown of, road and rail improvements across the region – so it’s disappointing the Chancellor was light on detail in this area. But the £1 billion pledged to digital infrastructure is an important announcement for tech-based businesses across the UK.

“Rolling out full-fibre broadband, and supporting trials of 5G mobile networks, are commendable steps to support connectivity in our cities and facilitate the ongoing development of the Internet of Things.”

Evoke Creative's Dean Ward

Evoke Creative’s Dean Ward

Measures to boost the exports market have also attracted support from business chiefs in the North West, but Carl Williams, North West managing partner at business advisers Grant Thornton, has called for more clarity on how the government plans to execute the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

He says: “While measures to support exporters and give greater devolved powers to local authorities are welcome, there was precious little detail on how the government will drive the Northern Powerhouse agenda forward.

Williams adds: “While the government’s focus on infrastructure is welcome, building houses, roads and broadband networks is not the sole answer to addressing the productivity gap between the capital and the rest of the UK.

“We need to start at school, build aspirations and community involvement, and focus on measures that will improve not only economic prosperity but increase the health, happiness and wellbeing of the population.”

Carl Williams of Grant Thornton

Carl Williams of Grant Thornton

Conrad O’Neill, director at commercial property agent Canning O’Neill, praised Hammond for setting aside funding for Local Enterprise Partnerships in the North, but wants full disclosure about how and where this capital will be allocated.

He says: “The £566 million awarded to Northern LEP’s is welcome – although London has been awarded 88% of what the whole of the North is getting and 27% of the total which seems to contradict the Chancellor’s pledge to reduce the gap between London and the rest of the country – but we need to understand the detailed allocation of this and what it will be used for.”