The Government announced its intention to allocate further funding to bring the long-awaited Croxley Rail Link one step closer to getting the go-ahead and its intent to invest in the formation of a pioneering agricultural innovation centre in Harpenden.

George Osborne announced in the Budget that the Government will provide a further £34 million to support the delivery of the Croxley rail link project, subject to a £16 million contribution from Transport for London and final approval of the scheme (click here for the latest update)

The rail link, which is a key priority for the LEP as evidenced in our Strategic Economic Plan, is set to extend the Metropolitan Line on the London Underground to Watford Junction on the West Coast Main Line.

The Chancellor also announced the Government’s intention to invest £11.8 million in the formation of the first national Centre for Agricultural Innovation. Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, which is strategically funded by the BBSRC, welcomed the announcement.

“The Centre for Agri-Informatics and Sustainability Metrics (AIMS) has been proposed by a consortium comprised of leading industry and academic partners. Rothamsted Research, the University of Reading, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) have been leading the development of the proposal which underwent two rounds of independent assessment.

“The decision by the Government to invest on the first Centre for Agricultural Innovation is a very positive development. There is recognition of the need for public investment now in research and “big data” management, their processing and utilization in order to deliver a step change in innovation and productivity of the agricultural sector in the future and place the UK in the forefront of the sector.”

This potential funding commitment was also welcomed by Hertfordshire LEP which secured £0.5m investment in its Growth Deal from the Government to help progress state of the art incubation space for early stage agri businesses at Rothamsted.

The Budget also included further support for the creative industries sector, a key growth area for the county and one prioritised by Hertfordshire LEP as evidenced in its Strategic Economic Plan. The Government will extend the Skills Investment Fund, providing £4 million to ensure that it can continue to match fund support for training and development in film, television, visual effects, video games and animation for a further two years.

Employment, education and skills
• National minimum wage to increase by 20p an hour to £6.70 from October 2015 – expected to rise to over £8 by 2020
• Hourly rate for apprentices will increase by 57p to £3.30 an hour
• Unemployment has fallen by 102,000 to 1.86 million
• 1.9 million new jobs created since 2010 – 1,000 each day – 80% of which are full time
• Number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance at its lowest level since 2008
• Number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work now at 743,000
• Apprenticeship Voucher scheme to put employers in control of Government funding for training their apprentices.
• Abolish National Insurance contributions for those employing a young apprentice from April 2016. This had already been announced in last year’s Autumn Statement.

Enterprise
• Review of business rates, ready to report back to Government in time for the Budget 2016. Mr Osborne announced pilot schemes in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough which will see the local authorities retain 100% of any additional business rate growth beyond expected forecasts.
• Ultra-fast broadband of at least 100 Megabits to be made available to nearly all UK premises and it will take action to support the delivery of broadband in rural areas.
• Further measures to improve the accessibility of R&D tax credits
• British Business Bank will launch a pilot programme to increase the supply of growth loans to firms that need between £500,000 and £2 million to achieve their potential.