On March 16th George Osborne delivered his 6th Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer. This had a number of goodies in it, and many of them will have positive impacts on people living and working in South Gloucestershire.
Firstly there was an announcement that the Government will be setting aside £500,000 for a study to investigate the possibility of building a new Junction 18A to link the M4 with the A4174 Avon Ring Road in South Gloucestershire. This was first campaigned on two decades ago by Cllr Colin Hunt, now the Chairman of the Planning, Transport and Strategic Environment (PTSE) Committee on South Gloucestershire Council, and has now been taken up by the cross party Gateway2Growth campaign, for which Chris Skidmore MP and Luke Hall MP have been prominent champion in Parliament.
Speaking of this announcement Cllr Colin Hunt commented: “This campaign is close to my heart and has been a personal crusade for many years. We desperately need a new junction on the M4 to take some of the traffic off the ring road and to make South Gloucestershire more attractive to businesses, commuters and investors.”
The Chancellor also announced that spending on flood resilience and defence work will increase by a total of £700m by the year 2020-21, funded by a 0.5% increase in the standard rate of Insurance Premium Tax. The Budget did not specifically make mention of the Severn estuary area, which has been beset by flooding problems in recent weeks, however this increase in spending does offer an opportunity for South Gloucestershire and partners on both sides of the Severn estuary to bid for extra funding to help shore up our flood defences.
On education spending it was announced that there will finally be a fairer funding formula for spending on schools. South Gloucestershire is the third worst funded education authority in the country (£4,196 per pupil, BBC, March 2015). The new National Funding Formula will replace the current system, described in the Budget as ‘arbitrary and unfair’ and the Government’s aim is for 90% of the education authorities who will gain from the new system to be receiving their additional money by 2020. This will help South Gloucestershire continue its campaign to improve schooling for local children and implement the Education Commission’s recommendations for better education for South Gloucestershire children.
Speaking of this announcement Cllr Jon Hunt, Chairman of South Gloucestershire Council’s Children and Young People Committee said: “South Gloucestershire has long suffered from being amongst the absolute worst funded education authorities in the entire country due to the unfair system in place. I am pleased this wrong is being righted by the Government with the new National Funding Formula and look forward to seeing the benefits of fairer funding for schools in our area.”
Local businesses will feel the benefit of the Government cutting business rates for 900,000 smaller properties, meaning small businesses will have more money to invest in business growth. Properties with a rateable value of £12,000 or less will receive 100% Business Rate Relief. Properties with rateable value between £12,000 and £15,000 will receive tapered relief. Occupiers of a third of all properties will pay no business rates whatsoever, which could be worth as much as £5,900 in 2017-18.
The toll charge on the Severn Bridge will be halved from £6.60 to £3.30 from 2018, following a campaign from Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall. If you are a commuter who crosses the bridge 5 times a week then this will translate into a saving of £858 a year, a significant saving for local businesses and workers. Many in South Gloucestershire make the trip into Wales for work, for tourism, to visit friends and families, for outdoor pursuits and a host of other reasons on a regular or semi-regular basis.
Finally, but most importantly, the Government announced the Devolution deal for the West of England. This deal will involve a £900m infrastructure investment fund over the next 30 years, as well as devolved skills funding for post-18 provision with total funding meaning over £1bn of new money will be invested in the West of England area. For more information and a quote from Council Leader Matthew Riddle, please see the press release from South Gloucestershire Council’s Strategic Communications team.