Jonathan Walker 2014The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) has responded to today’s release of “Productivity plan: government action to increase UK productivity growth across the next decade”, published by Chancellor, George Osborne and Business Secretary, Sajid Javid.

With regards to North East productivity, apprenticeship levy and devolution Jonathan Walker, head of policy and campaigns, NECC, said:

“The Chancellor is right to recognise the issue of low productivity as a barrier to future growth and prosperity. It should be noted that in the North East we have made huge strides in recent years closing our own productivity gap with the rest of the UK.

“Many of the proposals in the Productivity Plan are welcome in principle, but we need to see a far greater level of detail before we can assess their impact. In particular, plans to introduce an Apprenticeship Levy will need to be heavily consulted on with businesses to ensure they have the desired outcome of increasing numbers and to avoid creating a system that disadvantages or deters SMEs.

“The Plan also reinforces the Government’s commitment to devolve powers to areas such as Greater Manchester and Sheffield. Businesses want to see meaningful deals secured for this region and real leadership must be shown in if we are to avoid being left behind.”

Commenting on planning permission on brownfield sites and the local plan process, Rachel Anderson, head of policy and representation, NECC,  said:

“While plans to grant automatic planning permission on suitable brownfield sites is a welcome step towards delivering more homes on such sites, obtaining planning permission is often not the hurdle to getting brownfield developments off the ground. We would like to see greater funding to help make brownfield sites viable.

“Government comments that there is no need to build on the Green Belt are concerning. Brownfield sites in the North East do not have the capacity to deliver the number of homes we need, and there must be a sensible and evidence-based approach to Green Belt release, rather than making decisions on political grounds.

“While proposals to streamline the local plan process are welcome, we are cautious of proposals for government to have powers to intervene and have local plans drafted when local authorities fail to or are making slow progress. Instead, there must be attention as to why the process is slow, such as deep planning cuts and consequent lack of capacity in planning teams, with more steps to address these issues.

“Government should look to guide authorities on how to adopt robust and appropriate local plans in line with government objectives, while giving local authorities, as well as the businesses and people within them, control over the direction and future of their area.”