While the media is crawling all over Theresa May’s letter triggering article 50 it seems as though the budget announcements of this month have been largely forgotten. The initial focus for the budget was on the changes to National Insurance for the self-employed. To those not directly affected the most interesting part of this was seeing that Philip Hammond, like his predecessor, is willing to make u-turns in the face of public outcry.
For Indigo&’s members the budget was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some big announcements on infrastructure spending including £690 million for local transport and a further £220 million to improve congestions on national routes. These numbers while in no way small have to be considered against costs per mile of £30 million for building motorways, £16 million for dual carriageways and £10 million for an extra lane so the reality is we are not going to see any major schemes coming from this.
Telecoms is another area where the Chancellor wants people to think he is putting his money in. Here, £200 million was earmarked for fibre broadband. While not to be sniffed at there is the unanswered question of how this will be procured. BT Openreach has just been fined £42 million for failing to pay £300 million in delay compensation and so they clearly are not flavour of the month but it is still difficult to see who else they can use. Maybe this is the moment for the telecoms SMEs to make a play against BTs dominance of the market…
Where the budget does seem to have hit the mark is in its focus on training and education with the CBI hailing it as a “breakthrough budget for skills”. Technical education is being emphasised at the secondary level, and £300 million has been set aside to fund one thousand STEM-subject PhDs, alongside many new research fellowships. A further £270 million will be used to launch the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which will support research and innovation in universities and businesses.
Where a pot of money has been put forward that is a drop in the ocean is the £5 million to support those returning to work after a career break. Considering the numbers of people it is supposed to help it is difficult to see that it will have any impact at all.
On the whole we think that this budget was somewhat lacklustre but it is true to say that it could have been a lot worse…