Mansfield Mayor reacts to Chancellor’s Autumn Statement
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Among the measures announced by the Chancellor, the main areas that affect district councils are:
- Reforming the planning system to allow for faster planning applications. Local authorities will be able to recover the full costs of major business planning applications, in return for guaranteed faster timelines. If they fail to meet those, fees would be refunded automatically and the application processed free of charge.
- An increase in the Local Housing Allowance rate to the 30th percentile of local market rents. This would help people struggling to meet increases in private rents, and, said the Chancellor, would give 1.6 million households an average of £800 of support next year.
- A freeze in the way business rates are calculated for an extra year with a 75% discount on rates for hospitality businesses continuing for another year.
- A second East Midlands Investment Zone, the location of which has not been disclosed, which will focus on green industries and advanced manufacturing. It is expected help to leverage £383m in private investment and help to create 4,200 jobs in the region over the next 10 years and will be anchored by investment from Rolls Royce and Laing O’Rourke worth £9.3m.
“This should help ease the increasing demand on our statutory Housing services and reduce the number of people who present to the council as homeless simply because their benefits don’t cover the higher cost of private rents. Likewise, the increase to benefits by 6.7% will help to keep more people in their homes.
“However, the threat to remove benefits among the long term sick and disabled if they fail to engage in job-seeking activities is a concern. Many people in this district suffer from long-term sickness and claim these benefits.
“While we welcome improved opportunities for people with disabilities to work where reasonable adjustments by employers can be made, the fact remains that many people who claim disability and sickness benefits don’t work simply because they can’t work – even if they’d like to.
“So potentially penalising these people by stopping their benefits altogether if they fail to jump through job-seeking hoops could end up hurting some of the most vulnerable people in society and, ultimately, put greater pressure on council services.”
Regarding the extra help for business research and development and investment in skills, the Mayor welcomed them as being in line with council priorities to boost inward investment and regeneration, and improve the skills and employability of local people.
“The council welcomes the extra funding of £50m over the next two years to increase the number of apprentices in key growth sectors, including engineering, and the £500m to fund more innovation centres,” he said.
”This could potentially boost the opening of the Future Tech Skills and Knowledge Exchange in Mansfield and support local people to upskill.
“Likewise, the announcement on a new Investment Zone for the East Midlands is welcome news and could enhance our ability to attract investment and create an environment conducive to business growth.
“The freeze on business rates and the extra relief for the hospitality sector will provide some comfort to businesses in our area at a financially difficult time.”
Like most local authorities in England, Mansfield District Council is facing the biggest shortfall in its budget for many years, made worse by the impact of inflation with big increases in prices for energy, fuel and materials.
The cost-of-living crisis has led to increased demand on services and the authority must also budget for the recent pay award that was above the budgeted amount.
The authority carried out a consultation with the public in September to address an anticipated shortfall of over £5.4m across its Medium-Term Financial Strategy, 2024 – 2027.
Residents were asked which areas of services they would most accept cuts and increases in fees.
The council will not know how much funding it will receive from the government for 2024/25 until the end of the year.
The Mayor added: “Ultimately, we are facing some very difficult decisions about which services we prioritise in an economic environment that remains very challenging.
“We will do everything we can to support those who are struggling and we are making a strong case to the government to ensure our funding is adequate to safeguard services.”