While austerity, cuts and taxation caught the headlines in yesterday’s budget, other key points from the announcement included a boost to housing and infrastructure projects across the UK and £500m over the next three years for Welsh Government.
Additionally, the Treasury committed to a review of the Welsh Government’s borrowing powers including a potential £300m extension to support the delivery of projects including the M4 relief road, a removal of the cap of local authority borrowing to enable councils to build more houses and the appointment of a dedicated manager from the British Business Bank in Wales for the first time.
In response, Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales, stated that: “today’s budget shows the scale of ambition the UK Government has for Wales.” However, not all felt as positively as Cairns. Speaking candidly, Welsh Government Finance Minister and early front-runner in the Welsh Labour Leadership contest, Mark Drakeford, claimed that “any suggestion this Conservative Government’s failed policy of austerity is over, on the evidence, is wrong,” and real-term cuts paired with Brexit unease left many suggesting that austerity is far from over.
The Chancellor stood by his commitment to a house-building programme in England, announcing both an extra £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to support the building of 650,000 homes across the country and the next wave of strategic partnerships with nine Housing Associations, in a move that is expected to bring a further 13,000 homes.
High streets were also on the agenda and a £675m High Streets Fund was launched to regenerate high streets and town centres which could see empty or under-used retail and office space turned into flats. Although this would potentially make the conversion process of empty buildings a lot smoother, commentators, such as the RTPI urged caution “about making it easier for empty shops to be turned to residential use.”
What is clear from this year’s budget however, is a commitment to creating much needed housing, and, with a further axe on stamp duty - it is hoped more people will get onto the housing ladder and give the economy a much needed boost.