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"The beginning of a new chapter": Business leaders across the North East react to Spring Budget 2021

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has today unveiled his annual budget.

In the Spring Budget 2021 announcement, the Chancellor outlined plans for new Freeports as well as the launch of Treasury North in Teesside.

Bdaily reached out North East business leaders for their response to year’s budget and how it could benefit the region.

Ben Houchen, Mayor of Tees Valley Combined Authority

“Future generations will look back on today and say this was the day Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool was reborn as an industrial powerhouse.

“The Teesside Freeport marks the start of us returning to our rightful place on the world stage as a global player in advanced manufacturing and engineering. Today’s announcement now means that investors from across the world will choose to bring their investment to Teesside instead of elsewhere in the world.

“Investment that previously would have wandered off to Holland or Germany will now come to Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool - creating thousands of well-paid jobs for local people.

“With the largest development site in Western Europe, amazing infrastructure, a workforce to be envied and now the UK’s largest Freeport, we’ve put the building blocks in place for local people to benefit from the tsunami of jobs and investment that will come to our area in the weeks and months ahead.

“It’s taken nearly four years to turn this plan into a reality, but good things come to those who wait - and better things come to those who fight for what they deserve. The future of our area has been set on a new path. A path of prosperity, investment, jobs and a better life for local people.

“With the incredible announcement that Treasury North is coming to Darlington, hundreds of top Treasury jobs are heading to our region. For too long areas like Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool have been left behind and local people could be forgiven for thinking that we were often an afterthought.

“Well, that ends today. This move will put local priorities and local people from across our area at the heart of Government, as well as creating good quality, well-paid jobs for local people.

“Our children will grow up with the confidence that a top government job is within reach and that such a top career can be built right here in this great region.

“Over the last 12 months I’ve lobbied, badgered and harassed anyone who would listen. From Rishi Sunak and the Prime Minister to senior civil servants and MPs, we deserve a seat at the top table of Government and I’m proud to say that we were able to come up with an offer they couldn’t refuse. Our voice was heard.

“This shows that Rishi is a true Chancellor of the North. He’s a Chancellor that understands the old ways don’t work anymore. He knew we couldn’t continue to allow vital decisions affecting our area to be made by bureaucrats in London who have never travelled north of the Watford Gap.”

Cllr Mary Lanigan, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council

“[Teesport being granted Freeport status] is excellent news. Freeport status has the potential to help transform the entire region with Redcar and Cleveland at the very centre of a rejuvenated economy.

“Our industrial port is already a huge hub for growth and lies by the country’s largest, industrial zone which is being refurbished to the highest standards to cater for the industries of today and tomorrow.

“All this in an area which boasts a huge wealth of industrial excellence in the fields of engineering, chemicals, processing and green industry and has a transport network second to none.

“The potential for growth and job creation is massive and our message to businesses and industrialists around the world is clear: there is no better place to do business and trade than Redcar and Cleveland and the Tees Valley.

“The progress we are making hasn’t just happened overnight but has been down to the hard work of many people and partner agencies over many years and it is starting to pay off. The future starts now.”

Jerry Hopkinson, chief operating officer and vice chairman of PD Ports

“As the Statutory Harbour Authority for the River Tees, we are delighted that the Government has awarded our region this opportunity and are now looking forward to continuing to work closely with them to maximise the benefits this will bring to our region.

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter in the Tees Valley’s renaissance - Freeport status will enable us at PD Ports to build on our successful track record of attracting investment and delivering real, sustainable jobs across the region for the region.

“The River Tees is a national asset for trade and our newly found Freeport status will further help us to unlock its full potential and deliver the prosperity this region deserves.”

Matt Beeton, CEO of Port of Tyne, Martin Lawlor, CEO of Port of Blyth and Lucy Winskell OBE, CEO of North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)

“Today in the Budget, the Chancellor announced the shortlist for England’s freeport sites.

“Despite North East England Freeport being an outstandingly strong contender and universally endorsed - by business leaders, our cross party MPs, seven local authorities, two combined authorities and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership - our proposal was not among those selected.

“After four years developing the bid, we are naturally disappointed by this decision. It was a once in a generation opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people.

“Our vision for North East England Freeport was extremely ambitious. We are immensely proud of what we have achieved and the collaboration shown points to a very bright future.

“Our region’s leaders came forward to demonstrate their public support for the bid and heads of over 40 organisations signed a personal letter to Rishi Sunak outlining why it was so vital.

“The North East England Freeport would have delivered over 60,000 more and better jobs and helped to deliver a multi-billion pound boost to the North East’s industries. It would have secured new opportunities for local communities that have experienced severe economic scarring and been especially badly affected by Covid-19.

“Today’s news was not what we had all hoped for, but we must show the resolve and tenacity the North East region is renowned for and find alternatives.

“Our proposals contained some fantastic initiatives that we will look to implement irrespective of this decision and our Steering Group will explore how we can take some of these ideas forward.

“We will continue to promote our region’s industrial strengths and the target clusters of offshore wind, advanced manufacturing, automotive and digital innovation, using our world-class ports and manufacturing hubs by other means.

“On behalf of the whole team behind North East England Freeport, we thank all our supporters and those behind the scenes who worked tirelessly to make our vision a reality for their community.”

Andrew Moorby, managing partner at MHA Tait Walker and head of the Teesside Office

“As someone who has watched over 30 Budgets since first specialising in taxation it is easy to become jaded by the endless sound bites, many of which lack real substance.

“This Budget had the potential to be different as it comes at the end of a monumental year of change, and it didn’t disappoint.

“We had hoped to see a period of continued support for those most impacted by COVID-19 and we got it. We wanted to have a period of stability to allow the economy to recover before tax increases kick in and we got it.

“We hoped that infrastructure investment would continue with emphasis on new technologies and the green revolution and we got it. We even hoped for direct intervention into our region to help close the north south gap and again we got it, or at least Tees Valley did!

“Whilst there are clearly going to be challenging times for the economy in future years, and the Chancellor spent much time highlighting that UK borrowings are at unprecedented peacetime levels, the Government has given UK business the time and space to rebuild and change.

“Many of the measures had been widely trumpeted prior to the speech but there were still many surprises and new initiatives. The devil may well be in the detail, but the ambition was clear. The new 130 per cent relief for capital expenditure will hopefully encourage those employers to invest, expand and grow.

“Only time will tell if this was a truly inspirational Budget but from someone who has seen many that were not, this one feels different and in positive ways.”

Adrian Waddell, chief executive of NE1 Ltd

“We have lobbied hard for greater support for the city’s businesses and welcome the news that the Government intends to continue to provide support throughout the year as the economy reopens. This will hopefully allow the country to get back on its feet without pulling the rug from businesses as they reopen and start trading.

“The promised support, including continuing the 100 per cent business rates holiday until the end of June with reductions until the end of the year; VAT reductions until April 2022 and extending furlough until September are all areas that NE1 has been lobbying the Government for since last year.

“The new Restart Grant Scheme of up to £6,000 for retail, and up to £18,000 for hospitality and leisure is welcome, especially for those businesses still unable to trade and for whom reopening may yet be several months away.

“Much of the ongoing business support, whilst welcome, also has a tapering-off element applied. Asking businesses to contribute more to support their staff on furlough should only be applicable if these businesses are able to trade, free of restrictions, and so can operate profitably.

“Targeted support will continue to be required by businesses that have ongoing restrictions applied to their operations.

“NE1 has been lobbying for business support throughout the COVID crisis and we are pleased that the Government has acted on the primary issues. The real test of the efficacy of these measures will be sticking to the roadmap timetable and allowing businesses, as soon as it’s safe, to start trading again.

“Businesses are eager to start serving their customers and are looking forward to welcoming people back into the city centre.”

Paul Struthers, managing director of Sage

“This was a strong Budget for both SMEs and the wider levelling up agenda. This economic recovery will be a marathon and not a sprint. We welcome the short term relief that will come from extensions to Furlough and Business Rates.

“Help to Grow also provides a fantastic platform to encourage SMEs to invest for growth in the future.

“However, Super Deduction does not incentivise investment in technology and digital tools, and presents a missed opportunity for the small business community – who we know, want to invest but can’t.

“Today’s Budget is not about 2021 or the next parliamentary term, but about laying the foundations for the next decade of UK economic progress and productivity. SMEs created 73 per cent of net new jobs after the last recession, with the right support, they will do the same again.

“We now have a once in a generation opportunity build consumer confidence, underpinned by a digital led recovery, equipping the UK’s 5.9 million SMEs for growth.”

Jonathan Walker, director of policy at North East England Chamber of Commerce

“We’re really pleased that the Chancellor supported many of our biggest business priorities today. We had campaigned hard for more business support measures and for the relocation of Treasury jobs to our region.

“Government has listened with the announcement of a business rates holiday, an extension of the furlough scheme and support for specific sectors like hospitality, as well as the great news about the new economic campus in Darlington.

“It is also really positive that our region will have a freeport. We now look forward to seeing the detail on how it will be delivered to add genuine economic value.

“However, other parts of the North East will be feeling like they missed out on investment and we urge Government to reconsider the value and opportunities of a second Freeport and other major projects in the north of our region.

“There is good news today, make no mistake, but the journey to recovery and genuinely closing the economic gaps in our country is only just beginning.”

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