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  • Writer's pictureEastern Powerhouse

Conservative Manifesto offers little for the East


Rishi Sunak Launches The Conservative Party's General Election Manifesto

The Conservative Manifesto, launched yesterday, contains a number of proposals which resonate with what the Eastern Powerhouse has called for in our Manifesto for the East. We welcome commitments to:


  • Infrastructure: The delivery of upgrades to roads and railways including the Ely Junction scheme in East Anglia as well as the simplification and acceleration of infrastructure planning.

  • Education and Skills: The increase in apprenticeships (100,000) and tax-free bonuses for new teachers in priority areas and key STEM and technical subjects.

  • Innovation: The increase in public spending on R&D; investment to secure strategic manufacturing sectors including automotive, aerospace, life sciences and clean energy; and the roll out of digital infrastructure including gigabit broadband 5G mobile connectivity.

  • Housing and place-making: The delivery 1.6 million well-designed homes and the unlocking of new urban regeneration schemes, by creating locally-led urban development corporations in partnership with the private sector and institutional investors.

  • Devolution: The commitment to strengthen and deepen ‘level 4’ devolution deals for all areas that want them with greater powers over skills, transport, housing, business support and trade.


The Eastern Powerhouse has called for the next Government to promote English Regions and to ‘Back the East’. A regional perspective is clear in a number of eye-catching policy proposals, but this is largely reserved for the North and the Midlands. There is unfortunately no mention of the East of England, as a region, despite the presence of many sectors which this manifesto aims to grow and develop, including low carbon and green energy technologies, life science and agritech.


Nor is there any commitment to fiscal control as part of the proposals for next level devolution to English regions. The emphasis on large city regions and Mayoral Combined Authorities that have already advanced their claims elsewhere in England also means that places in the East could lose further ground should they choose to not pursue this route.

 

James Palmer, Chair of the Eastern Powerhouse stated.

“A greater focus on regions - the missing multiplier in the UK’s policy agenda - can help realise the potential in the East of England. Our view on the basis of this manifesto is that the East will continue to be overlooked should the Conservatives win the election.”

Rail infrastructure upgrades are vital to connecting places in the East and unleashing their growth potential, particularly along the Felixstowe to Peterborough corridor. The stated commitment to Ely Junction is therefore very welcome.

 

Jamie Burles, Managing Director of Greater Anglia said,

“To enable the delivery of key passenger service improvements, such as an hourly Ipswich to Peterborough service - which is a key customer and stakeholder aspiration, and the provision of more freight services by rail, the urgent delivery of the Ely area, Haughley Junction and associated level crossing upgrades is an essential regional priority.  Such enhancements would be beneficial for passengers, for freight, for our region, for the Midlands and the North too, and for the sustainable development of the wider UK transport system in support of net zero targets.”     

 

Yet the region needs more than this and desperately seeks endorsement of the far-reaching transport proposals which the Conservative manifesto reserves for Northern Rail.

Commitments to build new homes are also a priority for the region and the abolition of nutrient neutrality rules may help in the regard. But these are deep structural problems facing the construction industry, which is the largest employment sector in the East.

 

Simon Kidney, Small Business Owner, commented,

“The nation has seen construction employment diminish by 347 thousand over the last 5 years. Rough estimates, using delivery materials as proxy measurements, indicate that build numbers are about 30% below pre pandemic levels. The planning system also needs a complete overhaul, while investment in social housing, and employer incentives to take on apprentices, are desperately needed to drive talent in construction roles.”

 

The manifesto identifies that education is “the closest thing we have to a silver bullet”. The commitment to Lifelong Learning is therefore welcome as is the continued support for apprenticeships.


However, Gareth John from First Intuition, an Independent Training Provider based in Cambridge, has questioned how much of the money raised by the Apprenticeship Levy will still be retained by Treasury rather than allocated to the Apprenticeship Budget:

“Narrowing this gap must be a priority for adequately supporting the skills and apprenticeships sector. A further essential step is the urgent need to adjust those apprenticeship funding bands that haven't increased since before the period of high inflation of delivery costs. If individual apprenticeship standards can't be delivered economically by colleges and providers, then increasing the total apprenticeship budget will make little difference.”

Ends

 

Contact: Steven Lynch, Executive Director, Eastern Powerhouse

 

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