Yesterday’s Autumn Statement was big on PR for the government, however it was light on detail. It was designed to capture the imaginations of headline writers and it did that very well.
There is clearly enough concern within the Treasury and the OBR for growth forecast to be upgraded to 2.1% in 2016 - from 2.0% - then downgraded to 1.4% in 2017. This is clearly in reaction to the anticipated exit from the EU and the downturn that’s expected. Gloomy or just realistic? I’m an optimist, we’re an entrepreneurial society and we’ll rise to the challenge and realise our real potential; but there’s hard work to come.
In reaction to the outlook for national growth, the Government announced – belatedly – a £23bn investment in infrastructure. Ten years too late? To keep us all pointing in the right direction, roads, rail, housing, facilities and digital infrastructure needs to be uplifted, and quick. Looking from the outside looking in, £23bn looks a huge amount of cash, but with the number of projects we need, it won’t go far.
A digital focus for the UK?
An anticipated 4% of the infrastructure spend will be on improving our digital capabilities; no mention of super-fast, rather an emphasis on leading the development of 5G. 4G is not being utilised efficiently yet, so why the drive for 5G?
Toople.com have long campaigned for rural homes and businesses to be served by the same digital infrastructure that major cities get. There seems a real desire to move along, when we haven’t mastered existing technologies and opportunities. Like I said at the beginning, it’s an Autumn Statement of PR headlines rather than detail to get us as consumers and business leaders excited.
On paper £2.3bn is a big sum of money, but it is not nearly enough for our futures.
For the country?
This was a message of battening down the hatches. A further uplift to national living wage to £7.50p/h is welcome to families on lowest incomes, but will squeeze SMEs further. To help businesses, doubling UK export funding capacity to help businesses break into foreign markets. £400m into venture capital funds through the British Business Bank to unlock £1bn in finance for growing firms; will it be accessible?
No further welfare savings, no increase in fuel duty and more prison officers are all good things for the wider society.
We await the next instalment prior to Brexit. Promise to abolish Autumn Statement, with Budgets happening in the autumn from next year, along with "Spring Statement" from 2018. As I said, it was all about PR.