Although the Chancellor avoided acknowledging it, there’s no escaping the truth: the Autumn Statement announced some seriously bad news. Growth is down, wage growth is down, productivity is down, and business investment is down. Britain faces a £122bn black hole in our finances (with £59bn attributable to Brexit alone), and the government’s cluelessness on Brexit is causing uncertainty we can’t afford.
The reality is that the country desperately needs investment in infrastructure and skills, if we are to compete either inside or outside the European Union in the 21st century. This statement showed the government’s scattergun approach to infrastructure and didn’t even mention skills. Instead of a ‘National Infrastructure Commission’, Labour would establish national and regional investment banks, to unlock £500bn. This would give more power to regions and means money is spent more appropriately.
A good example of the government’s disconnect from the regions is its nonsensical promise of a new line for Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes, while shelving our electrification projects. The government needs to finish what it has started and put Great Western electrification back on track.
I’ve trawled through the Autumn Statement and accompanying documents in detail and there is just one mention of money for the South West infrastructure – just £191m for the whole region, when there are nine projects all ready to go, just needing the funding – including £195 million for local authority schemes, £983m for highways maintenance – that £191 million is not going to cover these. The South West also received significantly less than every other region other than East of England.
Furthermore, there is nothing in the Autumn Statement to reassure the businesses in Bristol West that the government has a plan for industrial strategy for the coming decades. Labour would investment in skills, infrastructure and research and development, as we did when we were in government. Sensible, strategic investment would prepare the country for the demands of the 21st century, rather than setting us back further.
Worse still, the Chancellor made it clear that he has no plan for Brexit. Having no plan for Brexit is a disaster for us in Bristol West. The University, the aerospace industry and Bristol’s financial services sector all need to be able to plan during these uncertain times. A shady deal has been given to Nissan in Sunderland, but our industries need reassurance too. People are worried about their jobs and futures, so it is irresponsible for the government to leave us in the dark.
However, I was very pleased to hear that letting agency fees will be banned. I have campaigned against them for years, and believe that they are deeply exploitative. I know the renters of Bristol will have been overjoyed to hear the news that they will no longer have to pay hundreds of pounds to sign documents that it took their letting agent ten seconds to print off.
So, Labour would have done this in government, but there is a more to be done to make renting in Bristol affordable. We need to extend standard tenancies to slow the rate at which rent can be increased, and we need to make it harder for tenants to be evicted. And most importantly, we need to build more homes, affordable and socially owned homes.
A Labour government would have been building thousands of new homes each year, whereas this government has presided over the lowest levels of house building since the 1920s. Young people are left with a non-choice of exorbitantly high rents or waiting for years to be able to buy.
This once again demonstrates the government’s total lack of a plan. One moment they’re naming themselves the champions of something, the next the idea is consigned to the dustbin. Where was the mention of the crisis in the NHS or social care? What did the government have to say on the environment or climate change? The chancellor was silent on some of the biggest challenges of our time – all to try and paper over broken Tory promises, the shambles they’re making out of Brexit, and the widening hole in the nation’s finances.