The national headlines may have been mostly about George Osborne’s u-turn on tax credits and the confirmation that no further cuts would be made to police budgets, with a side order of anguish for buy-to-let investors and second home buyers depending on the newspaper you read – but locally the big news from yesterday’s Autumn Statement was all about culture.
The Factory, at the heart of the St John’s Quarter project, is to receive £9m a year to cover running costs, a massive boost for the project. It was also confirmed that the government would commit £78m to the £110m Factory, which will be Manchester’s flagship arts venue and a home for the Manchester International Festival. There was also £5m pledged for the MOSI science museum and £2.5m for a South Asia Gallery at the Manchester museum.
It’s all positive news, and while we’re all aware that what we really need to make the “Northern Powerhouse” an economic reality is better transport links between the key cities as a matter of urgency, the strengthening of Manchester’s cultural capital has to be a good thing. Allied London has shown what it can do at Spinningfields, and St John’s should be the big story of Manchester’s progress over the coming years.
On the Northern Powerhouse itself, there was a pledge from the Chancellor to start a £400m investment fund for small businesses across the north, on which the British Business Bank will work with LEPs. He also pledged to spend £13bn over the course of this Parliament on northern transport. In terms of his political reputation at least, Osborne is staking a lot on making this happen.
What else was there? There’s a strong hint of science-based funding, showing again that Manchester has been smart in pursuing this as one of its key strengths. Work on the Sir Henry Royce Institute will start next year it was said, while there was provisional approval for Manchester Science Parks’ Alderley Park to build a new R&D centre. Science is also the theme of the new Enterprise Zones announced in the area, with Greater Manchester Life Science and Cheshire’s Science Corridor being among the 18 new or extended zones announced nationally.
George Osborne always seems keen to talk up devolution, and the unique opportunity this government is giving city regions to go their own way in terms of business rates, cutting where they wish to, or setting premium rates to fund key local projects. But it looks like the jury is still very much out on the extent to which this can happen – with their central funding cut, councils don’t have much “wriggle room”. It would be foolish of any business to plan financially on their rates getting lower.