Rishi's big budget: will it help bridge the gap?

  • By Harry Horton, Political Correspondent

In the run up to the budget, there were rumours in Westminster that Chancellor Rishi Sunak might have to scale back his grand spending plans as the spread of coronavirus threatened to disrupt the economy.

Instead, the North Yorkshire MP announced a huge package to help shield workers and businesses over the coming months, in addition to some of the biggest spending plans we’ve seen from any chancellor in three decades.

Many of the Conservative MPs in our region - who helped dismantle Labour’s so-called ‘red wall’ at the last election - cheered with delight from the backbenches throughout Sunak’s speech. Promises for extra spending on infrastructure, transport and flood defences are all seen by them as vital to rewarding the thousands of new Tory voters. The chancellor even managed to convince most Conservative MPs that his government can afford to pay for it all.

“All seems to be within the red lines that we set out,” says Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield. “It is a big investment, but I think we’ve got to do that in order to get over what is an unprecedented situation with coronavirus at the minute.”

Thirsk MP Kevin Hollinrake told me he was “really pleased” with the £30bn worth of measures to help businesses deal with the economic impact of coronavirus, and the chance to “level up” the economy for people in the North.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak meeting with the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney. Credit: PA

It’s a tricky situation for Northern Labour MPs. Some of Rishi Sunak’s announcements are exactly what they’ve long demanded from the government - and many of his plans will benefit their constituents.

“It’s good to see the steps that have been announced today," said Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh. But the government investment, she said, only goes some way to "correcting the mess that they’ve created over the last ten years.”

There’s no getting away from the fact this is a huge budget that goes at least some way to addressing the imbalance in regional spending in the UK. But many MPs and campaigners have been quick to point out there’s still much more work to do.

“A northern Chancellor has given a budget which makes a credible start towards levelling up – closing the North – South divide by investing in the infrastructure which will underpin the Northern Powerhouse,” said Henri Murison, Director of Northern Powerhouse Partnership. “Ensuring those living and growing up here today can take advantage of the opportunities that will be created here is the challenge for the Comprehensive Spending Review.”