Bristol let down by the Spring Budget, writes Darren for the Bristol Post

Having dug into the detail the Spring Budget announcements, Darren has given an assessment of what the Spring Budget means for Bristol.

Despite large scale investments being made across the country in an effort to recover from the COVID pandemic, Bristol missed out on opportunities to further its ambitions of modernising public transport and creating new job in the South West. Bristol went unmentioned in the one-hundred-plus page budget document, and missed out on it’s Great Western Freeport bid. It’s the remit of the Mayor for the West of England to secure funding opportunities for these large-scale infrastructure projects, and there the Conservative Mayor has failed.

You can read the full article below:

What the Spring Budget Means for Bristol.

Following much fanfare and a flash promotional video, the Spring 2021 Budget was announced by the Chancellor on Wednesday this week. This is the first full budget since the first case of Coronavirus was recorded in Bristol and an opportunity for the Chancellor to show what he has learned from a year of pandemic economics. It’s also a chance to see how Bristol and the West fit into the Government’s vision for post-pandemic Britain.

Bristol’s priorities of job creation, transport investment, NHS and frontline services and solving the climate emergency are well known. They’re spelled out in the city’s own 2021 budget, the One City plan and raised by my own constituents in Bristol North West when I speak with them about their ambitions for the city. So that in mind, what does the Chancellor’s new budget mean for our city?

Unfortunately, Bristol and the West were conspicuously absent from the Chancellor’s dispatch box speech and the written Budget. Bristol went unmentioned in the one hundred plus page document and the South West was only mentioned twice. Nothing on the city’s ambitious infrastructure projects, including the crucial Temple Quarter transport development. The flagship Great Weston Freeport bid, which I was told would create thousands of jobs, was rejected. Securing the funding for these vital projects is the job of our Conservative regional Mayor for the West of England. On this, as before, we’ve been let down in the West of England.

The extension of the furlough and self-employed schemes will be a relief to the workers and businesses in our worst hit sectors. I wrote to the Chancellor about this ahead of the budget, having hosted an open forum for constituents of Bristol North West excluded from Government support. Beyond the stress and worry that a loss of income causes, excluded constituents’ frustrations have been met with silence by the Treasury. Some progress has been made but this budget still does nothing to help new mothers, or people below the 50% self-employed cap. Ending the discrimination between self-employed and employed workers would not only be good for our economy, it’s the right thing to do for many Bristolians who are self-employed, required to work as freelancers or working in the so called ‘gig economy’.

To make the most of our recovery in Bristol, we need a truly ambitious jobs and reskilling programme. The apprenticeship and training schemes offered this week look promising but must be matched with a widespread onboarding effort to achieve uptake by small and traditional businesses. With strategic investment, our net-zero transition will create new high-quality jobs from construction and manufacturing to tech and services. Bristol has been at the forefront of this transition, but I’m concerned this budget barely mentions climate change whilst discarding the UK’s Industrial Strategy. This is a missed opportunity for the Government to set the agenda ahead of the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Summit this autumn.

Our frontline services, from teachers and police officers to NHS staff and care home staff, have put so much on the line for us in Bristol, and this budget should have been about championing their hard work. Yet below the headlines, we saw cuts in day-to-day budgets for our public services and no pay rise for key workers. I’ll be following up with the Chancellor about that and the Government’s inaction on Social Care reform and fighting child poverty; both absent from this budget.

With our vaccination effort making great progress in Bristol and case numbers declining, we’re doing our bit to set our city up for recovery. But the Chancellor this week merely focused on the short term, providing no real strategy for economic growth or decarbonisation, and leaving our public services and key workers without any hope of further support.