A budget for the Somerset?
As the Chancellor sharpens his pencil, we have some final thought about where Somerset could benefit from the budget.
It is always a worry when all the talk is about infrastructure spending in the North of England. Without taking anything away from the North and their needs, but sometimes governments appear regionally myopic.
Yes the red wall crumbled and gave Johnson his majority. But sometimes it seems as if Somerset has been waving a hand in the air vigorously and to no avail.
Over here please!
All too often it feels as if no-one is watching. As if all eyes are facing North.
In case it has slipped the Prime Minister’s notice, in 3 successive elections the orange wall collapsed in Somerset. It is about time that some serious government funding headed in our direction too.
Especially after the deep disappointment of Rebecca Pow’s Environment Bill, which fails to deliver for Somerset. It would be good to see something in the Chancellor’s Budget to secure funding for the Somerset Rivers Authority on a long term basis. If flooding support of £5 billion is available as the Chancellor hinted today – then we need some of that down here.
We have a serious need for public transport investment. New stations in Wellington, Langport/Somerton and perhaps it is about time there was consideration of a better solution for West Somerset and Shepton Mallet?
As you’ll read in the March edition of The Leveller the towns of Wincanton and Ilminster have been assessed as having the worst public transport connections in the South West. Some money coming in to help our local authorities provide better bus services and more of them would be welcome.
And as we now have some of the slowest broadband in the country and are at the bottom of the pile in terms of broadband coverage (never mind “superfast”), we need to hear more about investment in broadband in our county.
We need some government money to support a reorganisation of local government in Somerset too. Of course The Leveller® backs the unitary model, but even if you don’t agree, there will need to be some money whichever option we end up pursuing.
The Government commitment to keeping tax at the same level will be welcome, especially by those on basic tax and no tax. With an average Somerset wage at £24,000 that freeze will help most of our local workforce.
But we need investment in housing too. And it needs to be the right sort of housing. That means carbon neutral and affordable. To achieve both will definitely require government support.
And finally there are our town centres. Perhaps this is not the job of the Chancellor, but it most certainly is an economic job. When are we going to tackle the issue of what to do with our town centres. There are only so many empty shops you can take before a town centre starts to become blighted.
We need a meaningful debate about what a town centre is for. Clearly shopping is no longer the main reason people go into town centres. Government needs to lead this and to provide money locally for local people to start taking initiatives over how their towns develop. This budget can provide the funds to start asking big questions. Questions that all of our local authorities to date have ducked.
And finally what about energy production. There is much talk about the use of wind and solar. But are we going to continue taking up productive farmland with solar farms and not insisting that newbuild housing carries solar panels as standard.
Again the Chancellor could use the budget to make our energy policy make sense by adjusting the incentives given out to different ways of generating power in different locations.
So Mr Sunak. Over to you….