The chancellor has had little room for manoeuvre recognising the OBR economic forecasts, but he has recognised the importance of putting the country on a strong footing for life after Brexit.
He has recognised, as I do, that our future success depends on embracing the world and the opportunities it offers and investing in the industry and technology of the future, rather than trying to extend the failure of the past.
The younger generation is at the heart of a prosperous future for our country. Lincolnshire has a talented pool of well-educated and ambitious young people. But too often they leave the county. The number of 20-39 year olds has actually decreased by around 10,000 over the past 20 years and we continue to see a situation where more young people leave the county than remain here.
Young people don’t leave the area because of a lack of opportunities, in fact, one in five of our employers says that they struggle to fill vacancies so it is clear that opportunities are out there.
A lack of housing is a real barrier for young people, so I am pleased that the chancellor has understood that accelerating housing growth should be a priority. I shall be speaking with some of our most important building companies at the launch of Team Lincolnshire next week and it will be interesting to hear if they see a way that the chancellor’s proposals can help them to build more properties, and what assistance we need to give to help them.
We continue to hear from businesses that employees should have good maths and English skills, so the emphasis on increasing this knowledge is to be welcomed. The chancellor’s proposals will address the problem in the long-term, but we will be looking to work with government officials on how we can tackle the problem in the shorter-term. Our ‘Skills Support to the Workforce’ project gives training in key skills to employees of local business –that is one way in which LCC and the Greater Lincolnshire LEP are contributing to raising skills levels.
The chancellor has paved the way for a National Industrial Strategy. It will provide a framework for the investments in infrastructure that our economy needs in order to grow.
One third of businesses tell us that their growth is constrained by transport infrastructure, and we recently collaborated with Greater Lincolnshire LEP on a study of utility infrastructure in our area. Our study showed that we need an injection of £250m into electricity, gas, and water supplies in order to meet our plans for growth. We will urge the chancellor and other government departments to provide finance towards our utility requirements.
We welcome funds such as the electric vehicle charging fund and will look to bid into it so Lincolnshire is on the front foot. We will look to bid into all funding pots announced or extended today to support our key drivers for growth in our county.
The extra funding for the NHS has to be warmly welcomed as it is vital for a growing economy to have a health infrastructure that supports it but also for the opportunities it provides locally for younger generations to work in this arena.
It is important not to lose sight of the announcements about Research and Development. The chancellor appears to be providing more funding for R and D than he is for housing; that shows how importantly the government are taking the issue of innovation. They want to secure a strong future for the country after Brexit, and they see that future being based on innovative designs, innovative ideas, and innovative products.
Lincolnshire has a proud history of innovating, from Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity through the invention of the tank and up to the modern day with some of the best farming techniques in the world. We will be pushing the government to ensure that a fair amount of that R and D funding comes to Lincolnshire so that we can continue our proud tradition.
Above all, the backbone of the Greater Lincolnshire economy is its 38,000 small and 51,000 self-employed and unregistered businesses and the packages announced today to support those businesses are to be applauded.
For individual workers in the county, the increase in the personal allowance, an increase in the National Living Wage and a freezing of stamp duty for first time buyers illustrates to me that the chancellor fully understands the need to look to the future, invest in it but above all to provide the economic security our young people need to have a fulfilling life in work where work provides economic security for them and their families for the future.