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Mark Rogers: Hammond’s autumn statement can bring real change

Mark Rogers
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The autumn statement is almost upon us again.

Unusually, this year it will actually be in the autumn but two other, rather more important things could also be different about it.

This one has the potential to be a moment of genuine policy change. Brexit means the economic foundations have shifted and the chancellor has said he wants to reset economic policy in response.

This will mean the end of moving into surplus by the previous chancellor’s 2020 target and we hope that means a relaxation of the cuts that have been disproportionately targeted at councils for six years.

There have been calls for more money for social care and we know through our work on sustainability and transformation plans there can be no sustainable transformation of health and social care without a whole-system approach and an injection of cash.

The government surely has no option but to bring forward the enhanced better care fund and supplement the social care precept, which has proven to be significantly undercooked in addressing living wage, rising demand and market failure issues.

There will be a new industrial strategy at the heart of the prime minister’s priorities. Greg Clark has made it clear that it will be a place-based strategy, recognising that local leadership and economic geographies such as the West Midlands Combined Authority are essential to success.

The recent Heathrow announcement is a case in point. There must be an interface between those big national projects and the regional and sub-regional investment programmes we are seeking to lead through devolution.

The expansion of Birmingham airport, linked to HS2 at the Interchange station and part of the wider UK central economic zone, is a classic example of where national and regional can come together to gain maximum benefit from investment. The green light for Heathrow must be accompanied by wider investment in the regions to create a balanced transport system and economy.

The second element that can and should be different about this year’s statement is that the new government gives us the chance to be more strategic and to have a dialogue with them about the systemic, big-ticket changes we want to see, rather than just submitting tactical or short-term proposals.

That must include an indication that fiscal devolution has a future beyond 100% business rate localisation and the end of grant so local and national government can agree genuine autonomy from Whitehall and put councils, working in strong partnerships, in charge of their own destiny. We will know when devolution has arrived when we see that intention take hold.

This autumn statement is an opportunity for local and central government to embrace that change to a more strategic and more devolved approach. We must not miss the chance.

Mark Rogers, chief executive, Birmingham City Council

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