Opinion: Budget 2016 - Fizz versus fact

As the dust settles on George Osborne's budget speech it is becoming clear that the fizzy pop tax is perhaps even more of a frill than originally thought. Clearly there are more pressing issues arising out of other less obvious aspects of Wednesday's announcements.

It's the budget Jim but not as we know it...

Having said that, a tax on sugary drinks alone will not end child obesity. We need a long term strategy to support parents in all aspects of family life if we want a healthy future for our children. An ill thought out dash towards academy primary schools, with no role for parents in their governance, will not help achieve that - especially given the very recent evidence that academy schools are not the be all and end all for education.

The notion that Bradford's Sir Nick Weller will prepare a plan for improving school education in the North can be welcomed, but until it is clear what that means, one should only offer a cautious welcome.  Certainly prepare a plan for education before any more discussion about academies and school governors.  There is a need for a Yorkshire Education Challenge which mirrors the successful London Challenge.

Announcements about a four-lane M62, a new tunnel from Manchester to Sheffield, HS3, and upgrades for the A66 and A69 again can only receive a cautious welcome as all that is actually being offered is the planning for these things.  One wonders which will come first: London's Crossrail 2 or any of the five promised Northern developments.

The increase in insurance tax premium to be spent on flood defences in York, Leeds, Calder Valley, Carlisle and across Cumbriais estimated at £700 million.  Given that the scheme originally mooted for Leeds alone was £190 million 5 years ago it's hard to see how the money will be used effectively.

The £13million for Hull's City of Culture can be welcomed, especially if it is spent wisely producing a long term sustainable benefit for Hull and it's communities. However, money being made available for museums to support travelling exhibitions sticks in the craw. Will this mean that the items removed from Bradford to London will come back as part of a travelling circus?

Business Rates will be reduced or will be nil for half of all businesses. The Local Government Association is already asking for clarification as to exactly what that means. As part of the Northern Powerhouse deals councils are expecting to keep 100% of business rates, so just what exactly will any new combined authority be collecting? 100% of nothing?

The announcement that Lincolnshire will go it alone as a combined authority puts to rest the notion of a back room Humberside deal.  Now is the time for local authorities in Yorkshire to put aside their parochial ambition and look at what a real Yorkshire-wide Parliament could produce.  Then and only then could we plan properly for the future of our region without the piecemeal policies outlined above handed down from our “masters” in London.

 


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