THE Chancellor has been praised for finally offering a Budget which “plays to the North’s strengths”.
Manufacturers in the North East last night said George Osborne deserved a “pat on the back” for offering in his fourth Budget support for heavy industry and exporters.
Critics though said the Chancellor had failed to do enough to help narrow the gap between the North and the prosperous South East.
The Budget included tax relief for energy-intensive industries, especially those in Teesside, and new export guarantees, which when coupled with funding for a new business park next to Nissan, is expected to lead to a “reshoring” of jobs as work comes back to the UK.
That help though comes too late for those who lost their jobs at Alcan in Northumberland, said to be partly as a result of Government energy taxes.
In the run up to his Budget, the Chancellor had come under renewed pressure to offer a jobs focus, especially for areas outside of the South East.
Mr Osborne repeatedly cited regional measures, such as help for airports to bring in new routes, and tax incentives for energy intensive Northern firms, as he set out his plans for growth.
David Skelton, heading up the renewal group aimed at pushing up Conservative support in the North, said the Budget would make a substantial difference in the region.
He told The Journal: “This Budget will help ensure that the benefits of the recovery reach the North East and strengthen manufacturing in the region.
“After years of under-investment in transport and other infrastructure, it’s important that the region is now getting the infrastructure investment that it needs to build a private sector-led economic renaissance.
“While the last Government focused all of its attention on the City of London, it’s welcome news that the Government has taken measures to boost manufacturing and ensure sustainable growth outside of the South East.
“The increase in the National Minimum Wage, announced last week, is hugely welcome and something that Renewal have been campaigning for since we were established.
“The freeze in fuel duty, cut in beer duty and halving of bingo duty will also be cheered by working people across the region.”
But others were last night unconvinced.
Ed Cox, director of left wing think tank IPPR North, said: “The Chancellor promised a Budget for the regions and for resilience.
“But this rhetoric is wearing very thin.
“While growth forecasts may look better one year on, the recovery is looking very different depending on the part of the country you live in, with today’s unemployment figures showing a 2.3 percentage points gap between the North East and the England average.
“And in truth there were very few announcements that are likely to narrow that gap and nothing to boost the powers and funding devolved to Northern cities.”
Lord Shipley, the Lib Dem peer advising the Government on regional growth, said the export changes would be a big help.
The former Newcastle Council leader said: “We have to now take advantage of the opportunities for the region in this Budget, it plays to our natural strengths.”
That message was backed by Northern manufacturer group EEF.
Regional director Andrew Tuscher said: “Manufacturers in the North East should be delighted - the Chancellor said this would be a Budget for manufacturing and he has more than delivered on his word.
“The Government has sent a strong message that it clearly recognises the need to make the competitiveness of the UK a priority and this will benefit hard-working companies across our region as well as up and down the country.
“We made a strong case for the need to reduce the rising cost of energy faced by so many companies and the Chancellor has acted on that.
“Taken together with measures to boost investment, exports and skills, the Chancellor deserves a pat on the back.
“We have always said that to achieve a resilient recovery the Government must back manufacturing and we’ve seen that from this Budget.”