In the week that pupils in England returned to school, Swindon MPs Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson and Leader of Swindon Borough Council Cllr David Renard joined our quarterly meeting with Swindon business leaders chaired by Business West Director of Policy Matt Griffith.
Justice Secretary and South Swindon MP Robert Buckland spoke first, offering his take on this year’s Budget.
Robert emphasised the scale of government support for the UK economy since the start of the pandemic, adding that a total of £420bn in spending had been committed to fighting the economic impacts of COVID-19, placing the UK among the highest in the world for its COVID-19 interventions.
The South Swindon MP then praised the Chancellor for extending various business support packages, such as Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, through to the autumn, suggesting that combined they would save up to 300,000 jobs.
Having offered his assessment of the macro-economic implications of the Budget, Robert turned his attention to more local matters.
Swindon was one of a handful of towns and cities across the UK to be named in the Budget, carrying on a trend of continued direct government investment in the town he said.
£19.5m was pledged by the Chancellor for major regeneration and renewal projects in Swindon, giving the green light for transformation of the Health Hydro, as well as work on the Heritage Action Zone, the Carriage Works and Kimmerfields.
Robert was keen to stress that the Treasury’s continued backing of Swindon was in recognition of the return on investment the town offers, praising the efforts of the Borough Council in bringing shovel ready projects to the table.
Looking ahead, the Justice Minister said that he was confident that Swindon has a vital role to play in the green economic recovery, highlighting BEIS’s forthcoming hydrogen strategy as an example of clean growth opportunities Swindon is poised to capitalise on.
Robert ended his presentation with a timely reminder that the “Vaccine is not just a public health tool, it’s an economic tool,” as he urged the business community to continue to follow COVID-19 guidelines and support the vaccine rollout.
North Swindon MP and Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions Justin Tomlinson echoed his counterpart’s assessment of the Budget, and again praised the proactive and joined up work of the business community, council and local leaders in attracting investment into Swindon. He added that since 2010, not many other towns had attracted more money per head than Swindon, leading to the creation of 11,000 new jobs.
Justin said that he was confident of a strong economic recovery from COVID-19 in Swindon. “Growth will get us out of the hole we’re in,” he said highlighting the wealth of opportunities for Swindon businesses in global markets and green technologies.
The Honda site is a big opportunity for the town, the DWP Minister then added, saying that it would play a central role in the rebuild of Swindon’s economy moving forward.
Swindon’s absence from Cambridge-Oxford Arc, was labelled “disappointing” by Justin, who said that the town’s MPs would continue to push for greater economic and transportation linkages with the East.
The MP ended with a note on COVID-19 vaccinations, expressing his view that there is now “Genuinely, light at the end of the tunnel,” with a successful vaccine rollout and a clear roadmap in place for lifting the lockdown.
Cllr Renard began his address to Swindon business leaders with an update on COVID-19 transmission rates in the Borough.
With the highest case rate per 100,000 in the South West and slightly above the England average, David said that SBC’s public health team had identified community transmission as the cause of a small spike in infections of late.
He went on to praise local business for its continued adherence to safety guidelines and for averting any notable workplace outbreaks in recent months.
Continuing on the theme of COVID-19, the Council Leader said that at least £38m in financial support had been given out to local businesses. Lots of support is still available on the Council’s website he added before giving a brief overview of a specialist scheme for taxi and private hire drivers to recoup lost earnings.
With a new financial year only weeks away, David confirmed that Swindon Borough Council’s budget had been agreed, with council tax rises lower than South West England average.
Picking up on a point raised by Justin Tomlinson, David said that Swindon Borough Council were in favour of joining the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, and would continue to engage with the relevant parties.
A Q&A session led by Chair Matt Griffith followed.