Can superfast Midlands speed-up economic growth?
- 5 December 2012
- From the section England
It comes to something when you hear Labour, the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the TUC all demanding exactly the same thing.
That's exactly what happened during the run-up to today's Autumn Statement, billed in practice as a 'minibudget'.
Major infra-structure projects were needed, they told us, to get the economy growing again.
And in the Midlands that's exactly what we've got. George Osborne has confirmed plans for a new superhospital for the Black Country, the extension of ultra-fast broadband to Coventry and the promise of major investment in the region's schools and motorways.
But when I spoke to the former West Midlands minister, the Labour MP for Dudley North Ian Austin, he told me what most people would notice in the Autumn Statement was the further erosion of their living standards because of the Government's economic failures: the squeeze on their benefits and continuing year-on-year cuts to local services.
Confirmation, if ever we needed it, that these great Parliamentary set-pieces are as much about politics as economic management.
Why else would we have been 'briefed' that the Chancellor had in his sights 'the 3 Bs':
*Bureaucracy: £5bn to be cut from central government departments to free-up the extra capital funding for those headline-grabbing projects. But it's not JUST about cutting bureaucracy because those central government departments are responsible for current spending on front-line services too.
*Business: a variety of tax 'holidays' to spur small businesses, widely seen as one of the main engines of economic growth.
*Benefits: a 1% cap on working-age benefits, except for those related to disability.
*Better-off people: squeezing the pensions privileges of higher-paid public sector workers such as GPs or senior police officers and tightening-up on the use of Swiss bank accounts.
One final thought:
Two-thirds of all the people on benefits are in work, so perhaps ministers might consider resisting the temptation conjure-up their favoured imagery of hard-working people setting-out early in the morning while their neighbours on out-of-work benefits are still snugly tucked-up behind their closed blinds.
But don't be too surprised if you hear this idea again and again during the debate over the coming days. This is politics, after all.