Hertfordshire will be one of the beneficiaries in the next wave of areas for full fibre network challenge fund which aims to stimulate commercial investment in “gigabit capable” broadband networks. An additional £10 million has been pledged to increase Growth Hub capacity and provide high-quality, core business advice and guidance across all 38 Growth Hubs.

But the big decisions on the devolution of powers, the shaping of local economies will be made in the summer, while the National Infrastructure Strategy will be announced later in the spring, with the CSR providing full departmental spending plans. Here is our at a glance summary:  

Covid 19: £30bn package to combat coronavirus with small firms able to access "business interruption" loans of up to £1.2m and business rates in England will be abolished for firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with a rateable value below £51,000.

Transport, Infrastructure and housing: More than £600bn is set to be spent on roads, rail, broadband and housing by the middle of 2025 as part of its commitment to ‘levelling up’ the UK. This move has been welcomed by the County Councils Network (CCN):

 “While we await the full details of the government’s infrastructure strategy, we welcome the commitment to significantly expand the scale of investment to try and ensure that all four corners of England benefit. For too long, investment in our towns and rural and coastal communities in counties have lagged behind London and the major cities.”
Councillor David Williams, Chair CCN, and Leader of Hertfordshire County Council.

The OxCam Arc: The Budget announces plans to develop, with local partners, a long-term Spatial Framework to support strategic planning in the OxCam Arc. This will support the area’s future economic success and the delivery of the new homes required by this growth up to 2050 and beyond. The government is also going to examine and develop the case for up to four new Development Corporations in the OxCam Arc at Bedford, St Neots/Sandy, Cambourne and Cambridge, which includes plans to explore the case for a New Town at Cambridge, to accelerate new housing and infrastructure development.

Hertfordshire’s Local Industrial Strategy states: “This major growth narrative... will affect Hertfordshire. The area is home to 3.3 million people and stretches around 130 miles from Cambridgeshire, via Bedford and Milton Keynes, to Oxfordshire. It is considered to be one of the most economically significant parts of the country, contributing just over £90 billion a year to the UK economy with global strengths in knowledge-intensive sectors.”

English Devolution White Paper: The government will publish an English Devolution White Paper in the summer, setting out how it intends to meet its ambitions for full devolution across England.

The view from think-tank Localis: “What is at stake here is the devolution of powers that will necessarily follow the funding, how it is distributed and at what scale.  Will the new inclination of regional political economies encourage genuine local empowerment and self-determination to help shape communities and local economies in a way that accords with their sense of place and identity? Jonathan Werran, CEO.

The LEP Network is calling for:

  • A need for a visible, clear and influential role for the business community via LEPs, in economic decision making in devolved areas.
  • A long-term framework for devolution setting out the broad range of powers to be available to places, which can be drawn down at a time and in a sequence that makes sense for each place.
  • A call for devolved, long-term, flexible funding. Giving all places the resources and flexibility they need to deliver devolved powers.

Local Growth Fund: Decisions on the future of the Local Growth Fund, the monies allocated to LEPs for projects that benefit the local area and economy, will be made at the Comprehensive Spending Review. In advance of this, the Budget confirms up to £387 million in 2021-22 to provide certainty for local areas that they will be able to continue with existing priority Local Growth Fund projects that require funding beyond this year.

The LEP Network is asking for a two-year extension of £1.5bn a year to the Local Growth Fund through a Growth Deal 4 to cover the fiscal years 2021/22 and 2022/23, to avoid a gap in the delivery of capital projects while the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is put in place.

Full Fibre Networks Challenge Fund The next seven areas that have successfully bid for funding from the third wave of this fund includes Essex and Hertfordshire (£2.1 million). The LFFN programme is expected to run until 31st March 2021 and is being used to support the Government’s “strategy for delivering a nationwide full fibre network by 2033.” At present only 6% of UK premises have access to such a network but this is rising at an increasingly rapid pace.

The LEP Network is calling for 4G blanket coverage as a priority.

Further education capital funding – The government will provide £1.5 billion over five years (£1.8 billion inclusive of indicative Barnett consequentials), supported by funding from further education colleges themselves, to bring the facilities of colleges everywhere in England up to a good level, and to support improvements to colleges to raise the quality and efficiency of vocational education provision. It states: "This investment will ensure that colleges have cutting-edge facilities to train people for jobs in the industries of the future, and is part of the government’s plan to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure".

Institutes of Technology: The government will provide £120 million to bring further education and higher education providers in England together with employers to open up to eight new Institutes of Technology. These institutions will be used to deliver high-quality higher level technical education and to help close skills gaps in their local areas.

National Skills Fund: The government will consult widely in the spring on how to use the new National Skills Fund.

Apprenticeship Levy: The government will look at how to improve the working of the Apprenticeship Levy, to support large and small employers in meeting the long-term skills needs of the economy.

The LEP Network is calling for increased dialogue with government around the role that LEPs could play in further supporting apprenticeship growth, with a focus on any flexibilities that could be trialled around place-based approaches to improving the impact of the Apprenticeship Levy.

Business support

Growth Hubs: invest £10 million to increase Growth Hub capacity and provide a high-quality, core business advice and guidance offer across all 38 Growth Hubs.

SME productivity: The government will invest up to an additional £5 million in Be the Business to expand its national productivity campaign and further develop its digital tools and resources.

Business support reform: The government will use the CSR to make it easier for businesses to access the information and support that is relevant for them. As a first step, BEIS will lead the development of a digital service to provide businesses with tailored information about appropriate sources of support.

Start-Up Loans: The government will extend the funding of the British Business Bank’s Start-Up Loans programme to the end of 2021-22, supporting up to 10,000 further entrepreneurs across the UK to access finance to start a business. The government will set out plans to expand the programme at the CSR.

Access to growth capital for innovative businesses: Since the 2017 Patient Capital Review, the government has announced substantial support for innovative businesses seeking access to long-term growth capital. To build on this, the Budget will provide the British Business Bank with the resources to make up to £200 million of additional investment in UK venture capital and growth finance in 2020-21.

Prompt payment: The government is continuing its efforts to ensure that small businesses are paid promptly. BEIS will shortly be publishing a consultation on the merits of strengthening the powers of the Small Business Commissioner (SBC), building on the success the SBC has had in resolving payment disputes.

The LEP Network is calling for:

  • A doubling of Growth Hub funding to £24m per annum to offer the business support service to more businesses across the country at a critical time as local areas grapple with economic fallout from coronavirus.
  • A call for core funding to be supplemented by scale up funding made available to every Growth Hub, to reflect the success of the Scale up Programme.
  • A call for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to include support for local businesses as EU funding ends.

Budget 2020: Delivering on our promises to the British people

Read the LEP Network’s Budget 2020 document in full.