Autumn Statement 2016 – how it affects you

  • Chancellor Philip Hammond has delivered the first Autumn Statement of Theresa May’s government
  • From banning letting agent fees, to infrastructure investment and devolution commitments, there was a range of announcements of interest to the public and voluntary sector
  • We outline some of those key announcements below

All eyes were on Chancellor Philip Hammond as he made his first Autumn Statement speech following the vote to leave the EU. But what do his announcements mean for the public and voluntary sectors?

The Chancellor opened his Autumn Statement with post-Brexit assurances for the UK economy, citing IMF predictions that it “will be the fastest-growing major advanced economy in the world this year”.

Yet the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) downgraded forecast for UK economic growth early-on will have tempered expectations Mr Hammond would be delivering major investment promises.

Whether viewed as “prudent”, in light of public debt, or “gloomy” in the face of Brexit, the Autumn Statement brought announcements of interest to the public and voluntary sector.

Steadying the ship?

Brexit ‘unknowns’, and the need to extend the period for paying down the rising national deficit into the next Parliament, featured highly.

The Statement delivered details of a £1.5bn boost to infrastructure, as well its recommitment to the devolution agenda. However, it was light on assurances for wider local authority funding, particularly for social care – something that continues to concern council chiefs.

Andrew Jepp, Managing Director, Zurich Municipal, said: “After a summer of significant upheaval, council chiefs were looking to the Chancellor to use today’s Statement to steady the ship.

“Local authorities will welcome Mr Hammond’s slight departure from the fiscal policy of his predecessor. But given that councils are dependent on growth to continue to deliver essential services, the OBR’s projections for slowed economic growth over the next five years means chiefs will be in no doubt that there are many more tough years to come.

“Infrastructure investment in housing and transport is particularly important. The challenge for councils will be to ensure they secure the local benefits they need from these national infrastructure commitments, especially during the planning and construction process.

“The Chancellor’s promise that devolution will continue will also be well received, as will the additional powers given to mayoral combined authorities. Overall, the Chancellor’s tone was one of continuation rather than dramatic change, and this will be welcomed by local authority leaders.

“However, six years of austerity have left their mark on local authorities. Our ‘Worlds Apart’ report found that risk-taking in councils is now not just widespread, but the default position. Chief Executives are increasingly accepting considerably greater risks in the hope of reaping higher rewards.

“While such risk-taking is inevitable in such an uncertain climate – with Brexit being just one of the upheavals challenging council leaders – we would urge all local authorities to ensure that they have robust plans in place to minimise and mitigate the risks that lie ahead.”

Mr Hammond has said he will allow up to £1bn of savings found by the Efficiency Review to be reinvested in 2019-20 in “priority areas”, although the detail is still to come.

Social housing

Two big pre-Statement pledges affecting social housing landlords and their tenants made waves ahead of the Statement. The Chancellor has promised to ban upfront, unregulated letting agent fee charges to tenants seeking to rent a new home. Aimed particularly at removing these cost pressures from low earners, this has been welcomed by Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity.

The Government also shared its plans for Universal Credit, the single benefit introduced in 2013 to replace means-tested Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit, among others. These are to lower the taper rate at which Universal Credit can be withdrawn from claimants once they find employment, from 65p per pound, to 63p.

Moves to invest £1.4bn for 40,000 additional affordable homes have been welcomed. Mr Hammond has also announced a £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund to deliver infrastructure for up to 100,000 new homes in high-demand areas, as well as relaxing restrictions to allow providers to deliver a wider range of housing types. A large scale regional pilot of Right to Buy for housing association tenants and continued support for home ownership through Help to Buy loan and ISA schemes is expected.

In addition, a housing white paper addressing long-term challenges is to be brought forward.

Investment in infrastructure

Mr Hammond declared the Government would be prioritising “additional high-value investment specifically in infrastructure and innovation that will directly contribute to raising Britain’s productivity”.

He went on to announce a £23bn national Productivity Investment Fund financing innovation and infrastructure over the next five years. This includes ambitions for the UK to lead the way with 5G technology, and an extension of the UK Guarantee Scheme, supporting private investment in infrastructure, until at least 2026.

Other key announcements:

Health

£10bn of additional funding by the end of 2020-21.

Support for Early Years

Beginning the roll-out of tax-free child care in the UK providing a saving of up to £2,000 per child.

National Living Wage

A rise in the National Living Wage from £7.20 to £7.50 in April. This is slightly lower than previously anticipated.

Charities and social organisations

  • Reallocating £102m of the LIBOR bank fines to armed forces and emergency services charities
  • £3m from the Tampon Tax fund for Comic Relief to distribute to women’s charities

Devolution

  • Chancellor “recommitted” to devolution to support local growth, by committing again to city deals with Swansea, Edinburgh, North Wales and Tay cities, and negotiations with Stirling
  • Plans to grant combined mayoral authorities in England new borrowing powers
  • Looking beyond London and the SE to expand the productivity of regional cities
  • Investing in local infrastructure in every region of England, with £1.8bn announced from the Local Growth Fund to English regions for Local Enterprise Partnerships

Education

Providing new capital funding from today for grammar schools.