Furthermore George Osborne announced that it is to allocate an additional £1 billion to support a second round of local Growth Deals, taking the total amount committed from £6 billion to £7 billion. Growth Deals devolve at least £2 billion of central government funding each year to local areas to invest in infrastructure projects, businesses, skills and employment.
This is the clearest indication yet that the Government believes Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are best placed to drive forward local economic recovery.
John Gourd, Chair of Hertfordshire LEP’s Board said: "Hertfordshire LEP continues to build on our excellent track record - having secured £200 million in this year’s Growth Deal, we will continue to make the case to Government for further investment in the county.
"We will prioritise projects that can make the maximum impact on our economic growth through developing thriving sectors and supporting SMEs, as well as creating the infrastructure capacity we need for the future."
One of the biggest investments for Hertfordshire is the long awaited ‘widening’ of the A1(M), ending years of frustration for commuters. The work is funded by the Highways Agency and is part of a package of improvements which will help unlock future economic growth along this vital transport corridor.
The Government announced that between £50-£100 million would be spent upgrading the section between Welwyn and Stevenage by turning it into a ‘smart motorway’ and using the hard shoulder at peak periods.
In addition as part of the Autumn Statement on 3 December the Department for Transport (DfT) announced it will carry out an A1 East of England Feasibility Study. This will look into how the safety and performance of the A1 between Peterborough and the M25 can be improved, including the possibility of upgrading the old dual carriageway section to motorway standard.
Andrew Percival, chair of the LEP’s Strategic Infrastructure Board and representative of the A1 (M) Consortium, an alliance of local businesses and political representatives which has lobbied hard for improvements welcomed the news.
He said: "We are delighted the Government recognises that investing in future improvement to relieve severe and long-standing congestion on the A1(M) is key to the future of Hertfordshire and the region’s economy.
"Unlocking the bottleneck will significantly improve life for commuters and encourage future economic growth in the county. The LEP, MPs, businesses and local authorities have pressed hard for increased capacity on this key strategic route and we will continue to monitor progress to improve Hertfordshire’s road network."
This investment will enable the LEP to deliver on its £16 million Growth Deal commitment to enable flagship housing and employment around Stevenage over the next six years, including £2 million in 2015/16. It will also help to accelerate the second phase of the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (which secured £3m from 2015/16 SLGF; plus £10.5m in later years) and means we can develop plans for A1(M) junction improvements.
Education and skills
We welcome the Government’s announcement to abolish employer National Insurance contributions for apprentices under 25, making it cheaper to employ young people. This builds on last year’s Autumn Statement announcement that employers will not have to pay National Insurance contributions on under-21s from April 2015. This boost means that we can encourage more employers to take on apprentices, and continue to deliver on our promise to grow the skills base in Hertfordshire.
In addition the Government is to invest £20 million to improve careers advice and support for young people. This will enable us to ensure that the advice given best meets the needs of local employers, delivering another of our Growth Deal commitments.
Science and Innovation
The Government is to invest £5.9 billion in the UK’s research infrastructure over the next Parliament, with £95 million invested in European Space Agency programmes. We were thrilled by Osborne’s announcement that Airbus Defence and Space is to lead on the ExoMars Mission in 2018, once again putting the Stevenage aerospace company on the map.
The science and technology sector has been identified by the LEP as one of the key growth areas. This investment shows the huge potential for future growth in this area. Furthermore the Chancellor also tasked all LEPs to "bring forward proposals for science projects through the Local Growth Fund", a commitment we are honouring.
The Autumn Statement delivered good news for local businesses with a commitment to review the current business rates system and an extension of the Small Business Rate Relief to April 2016. These measures will enable SME finances to become more stable and to boost their contribution to Hertfordshire’s overall economic growth.