The chancellor’s budget covered all that was expected. From the government’s plans for the housing market, the U.K.’s productivity — and its impact on the economy and wages, to health and social care, welfare and transport including driverless cars and discounted train travel.
Philip Hammond delivered one of the most difficult budgets of late amid a climate of slowing growth and standing on unfamiliar territory as we cast off from Europe.
Brexit uncertainty and falling living standards have been particularly challenging as has the U.K.’s unwelcome slip down the G-7 industrial nations’ leader board for growth, from second only to Germany in 2016. At the moment it looks likely the slippage will continue through 2018 with The International Monetary Fund predicting growth at 1.7 percent in 2017 and 1.5 percent next year.
Recovery from the 2008 financial crisis has been slow, depressing UK living standards. Following a brief period of stability in 2015 and 2016, real pay fell this year in tandem with the fall in the value pound. All of that served to drive up the cost of imported goods and fuelled higher inflation — from 0.5 percent in June last year. The hangover from the crisis continues to dog productivity too, despite low levels of unemployment.
Britain has been making some gains — a drop in the level of borrowing for example — and there are more to come.
Yet, despite all of the challenges, there is huge opportunity. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is dawning and, for a new and potentially more nimble nation, there is everything to play for. The Chancellor pledged £500m for 5G mobile networks, full fibre broadband and artificial intelligence as the technological revolution is set to transform living standards for years to come.
He also highlighted the vital need for investment in skills and infrastructure to meet this revolution and the need to nurture the talented with extra resource — supporting maths and computer science within our education sector being a key area of focus.
But we must get our planning right now.
With a reputation for innovation, invention and ingenuity I am proud of my adopted country and excited at the prospects for new kinds of growth if we prepare correctly.
Better, faster and more efficient broadband has to be a priority if we are to compete freely. Whatever the best ideas and the keenest innovations, they will always lose out if immediacy is not on their side.
Let’s get our further education model re-engineered to fit the needs of the future and the needs of the future’s job markets. Engineers, technicians, scientists, economists and medics will be highly prized as we navigate, design and build this new economy.
Young people need to fall in love now with the possibilities of these most powerful and engaging careers if the advance of AI and smarter automation is to be confidently harnessed and new kinds of jobs created. And those same young people need to be able to afford to invest the time and money in the learning, work hard — and see some investment in them once they’re qualified.
This Fourth Industrial Revolution is a thinkers’ revolution. Announcing the government’s plans for better managing the housing question, it is clear time and thought have been spent on improving housing opportunities for first-time buyers and the homeless.
While building more family homes may be the answer, there may be a more enlightened way to unlock existing family homes under single occupancy? Should we really be building housing that appeals to older people who would downsize from their three and four-bedroom homes if we got the alternatives right?
Affordable must be appropriate. We are still building the same type of housing stock we built decades ago — it’s time to re-look at energy efficient smarter homes that people want to live in and make better use of the housing already here.
Affordable must also be safe and an issue that remains high on my agenda is how to create safe new housing and ensure existing housing stock is safe. It is encouraging that the Chancellor referenced this need and that financial constraints must not get in the way of fire safety changes.
Our Safer Structures Campaign is calling for greater security from sub-standard cables, which in the UK pose a real risk to public safety. Our work continues to press for a programme of market surveillance for cable and better cable compliance, to ensure that sub-standard cables are eradicated from the market.
There is no doubt Brexit is the biggest ‘unknown’ for the economy and strong economies are built on confidence, reassurance and predictability. But sometimes, the disruptive and the unpredictable can be just as powerful.🔷