Now more than ever, it’s important that we reiterate to our business community – and indeed the wider, general public in Oxfordshire – that our economy remains a strong and resilient one. It’s an economy that is well-positioned to react in a measured way to the potential challenges possibly brought on via climate change, Brexit and the Coronavirus.
With this in mind, several aspects of today’s Budget announcement from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak are very welcome.
The announcement of £30bn, allocated to help the national economy to directly-respond to Coronavirus, is positive news for all communities. Meanwhile – from a Local Enterprise Partnership point of view – the £10m investment into England’s growth hubs (including ours, OxLEP Business) is also encouraging, allowing us to continue to provide core business advice, resilience and guidance in what might be unsettling times for our small business communities.
Further support for SMEs was also announced today. An extension of the British Business Bank’s Start-Up Loans programme – to the end of 2021-22 – will support up to 10,000 further entrepreneurs across the UK to access finance to start a business, including those in Oxfordshire. The Chancellor has also said that the Government will provide the British Business Bank with the resources to make up to £200m of additional investment in UK venture capital and growth finance during 2020-21, otherwise known as Patient Capital.
Ensuring our communities benefit from good connectivity – both physically and digitally – is critical as our economy continues to grow. Nationally, £5bn has been allocated by the Chancellor to support gigabit-capable broadband capabilities in the hardest to reach places of the UK. Undoubtedly, many of our communities could be further unlocked through this allocation and it’s important our rural villages are not left behind.
Clean energy and clean growth are a significant and evolving aspects of our economy. Our own energy strategy aims to secure a smart, modern, clean energy infrastructure for the county and help to reduce countywide emissions by 50% by 2030 (compared with 2008 levels), setting a pathway to achieve zero carbon growth by 2050. Therefore, the Chancellor’s £900m allocation to support UK businesses who are leading the way in high-potential technologies – including those in fusion technology and clean energy – could see us as a county capitalising on this investment, given our significant, world-class expertise at Culham Science Centre, Begbroke Science Park, Harwell Campus and Milton Park to name but a few.
More widely, the Budget saw further good news for Harwell Campus, with the Chancellor allocating £180m of capital funding towards a new, state-of-the-art Collections, Research and Digitisation Centre for the Natural History Museum. The new facility aims to be a ‘world-leading centre for natural sciences research and international collaboration’ and again, provides further evidence of Oxfordshire’s world-renowned strengths in science and technology.
Finally – following today’s budget – it’s even clearer that the Oxford-Cambridge Arc remains a key focus of Government, as we move into a post-Brexit UK economy. This was further endorsed by the Chancellor’s announcement to develop, with local partners, a long-term Spatial Framework to support the potential of the Arc and its communities.
It’s now our role to work together with our many partners to realise our collective potential.