The following article was originally published in the North Wales Weekly News newspaper on 30 November 2016.
Last Wednesday saw one of the great Commons set-piece events: the Autumn Statement. It was, in fact, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Statement. It was also, he announced, to be his last.
Over the years, the November Statement has morphed into an event that rivals the Spring Budget in importance. As the Chancellor pointed out, no other major economy makes hundreds of tax changes every year at two separate events. He has decided to put a stop to that. Starting from next year, the principal Budget Statement will be made in the Autumn, with a far smaller Statement in the Spring. I’m sure that’s very clear.
The Statement itself, perhaps as a foretaste of things to come, contained fewer announcements than we have come to expect. There was certainly no rabbit-out-of-a-hat moment, perhaps reflecting Hammond’s lower-key style, compared to that of his recent predecessors.
The Chancellor did announce, however, that the national living wage will rise to £7.50 an hour from April next year. Car fuel duty will be frozen, for the seventh successive year. Agency fees on letting residential property will be abolished, in an effort to reduce the barriers to home-seekers. This, however, will be an England-only measure, but is one that the Welsh Government should quickly emulate.
There were also a number of England-only transport infrastructure announcements. Under the Barnett formula, they convert to an additional £400 million that will be passed to the Welsh Government. They need not necessarily spend that money on improving Wales’s own transport infrastructure, but I sincerely hope that they do.
I would also strongly suggest that a good proportion of that money should be spent in North Wales. South Wales is already benefitting from a planned upgrade of the M4 near Newport and a significant improvement to the Heads of the Valleys road. Here in North Wales, the A55 is creaking and a major upgrade is long overdue.
On Wednesday, the Chancellor recommitted the Government to boosting North Wales’s economy through the Growth Deal. To underpin that Deal, and link North Wales to the national motorway network, we need a better A55. It’s time for the Welsh Government to play its part.
At the May 2015 General Election, David was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Clwyd West, with an increased majority of 6,730.