Turbulent times require grey politicians and we have two at the top of government. Theresa May has turned off the daily flow of government initiatives to keep the press happy. A good thing too, the constant announcements from the Blair, Brown and Cameron regimes rarely amounted to much and were initiated in the vain hope of distracting hacks from the real stories.
Her next door neighbour and Chancellor, Philip Hammond makes John Major look exciting. But that’s not a problem for me. There is so much uncertainty in the world that we need a cautious person in charge of the money and that approach is likely to inform next week’s Autumn Statement.
Business in the North will want clear indications around the new Chancellor’s approach to the uncertainties of Brexit. Leavers are crowing at the moment because the economy hasn’t apparently suffered from initial Brexit damage. Let’s wait and see. If Hammond is wise he’ll be preparing the British economy for slower growth and higher inflation as the folly of us leaving the EU becomes more and more apparent. He will be hampered in shaping our economic future by the total disarray that is being revealed within government about what future relationship we actually want with the EU.
On taking office Hammond moved away from his predecessor’s deficit reduction targets. Price Waterhouse Cooper predict a gap of £67bn this year, a huge figure but will it matter to the Chancellor? We seem to be in a time when politicians prefer to forget the legacy they are leaving to future generations. That certainly seems to be the case with the incoming Trump administration in America where he breezily talks about a trillion dollar infrastructure programme.
While the Donald deals with his crumbling bridges, Hammond has a number of areas crying out for cash should he wish to spend it. Adult social care is at the top of the list, followed by the NHS and then councils.
Anyone with eyes to see can observe the plight of Town Halls. Libraries and bus services are being closed in a desperate attempt to support the growing needs of the elderly.
Then there is the housing shortage which is so badly affecting the young. I say young but in many cases married couples in their early thirties are still not able to afford a home of their own. The levels of stamp duty are being identified as a problem that the Chancellor might wish to address.
Then there is the Northern Powerhouse and Transport for the North. The latter is becoming an increasingly important organisation headed up by the former CBI boss John Cridland. He gave an impressive presentation to the North West Business Leadership Team recently about his vision for improved connectivity involving east-west rail and road links and simplified ticketing. The government revealed new route plans for HS2 this week. That project is seventeen years away. Next week the Chancellor needs to support some shorter term wins along the lines of the Cridland plan. It will also be interesting if Philip Hammond mentions the Northern Powerhouse. It was frequently mentioned in Osborne budgets. Despite denials there remains an impression that the May government has cooled on the idea or pivoted to the Midlands Engine.
Wednesday will be an important one for Philip Hammond and could define his whole Chancellorship.