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Budget: £10m Manchester Prize for AI, more devolution for Manchester, integrated technical education city-region, Northern investment zones

Jeremy Hunt, courtesy UK Parliament

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced the creation of the Manchester Prize, an annual prize of £1m a year for the next 10 years for ground-breaking AI research.

Hunt announced the prize during his spring budget which he is currently announcing in the House of Commons.

Hunt also set out his plans to improve the UK’s AI sector and for the country to become a “world-leading quantum-enabled economy by 2033” with a £2.5bn research and innovation programme. He promised £900m of funding will go to an exascale computer, while the £1m Manchester prize will be awarded every year for the next 10 years to a person or team that does the best AI research.

In a major boost to regional financial autonomy, Hunt announced he would be agreeing a multi-year single settlement for the Greater Combined Manchester Authority at the next spending review in a ‘Trailblazer Devolution Deal.’ This would also be extended to the West Midlands. Intriguingly, the increasing financial freedom for Greater Manchester came just after Mayor Andy Burnham had signed a ‘trade deal’ between the city region and North Carolina in the US.

A breakdown supplied by GMCA following the budget revealed that the new arrangements will include:

  • the ability to create the country’s first integrated technical education city-region, so it works better for young people and employers, through a new partnership board with the Department for Education
  • more influence on regional rail services to deliver a London-style integrated public transport system – the Bee Network – by 2030
  • £150m of brownfield funding and powers to underpin the new Greater Manchester Good Landlord Charter, which aims to raise standards in the social and private rented sectors
  • a single funding settlement similar to Scotland and Wales – the first time such a flexible grant has been given to an English region

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “This is the seventh devolution deal Greater Manchester has agreed with the government and it is by some way the deepest. This Deal takes devolution in the city-region further and faster than ever before, giving us more ability to improve the lives of people who live and work here.

“I have always been a passionate believer in the power of devolution, and I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to exercise those powers and make a positive difference to people’s lives.”

In other news of note to the North, Hunt announced the return of “investment zones.” Citing Canary Wharf in London and the Liverpool docks as two “outstanding regeneration projects,” he said he hopes to replicate that success with 12 new investment zones identified by the government, describing them as “12 potential Canary Wharfs”. Greater Manchester, the North East, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Teesside and again Liverpool were singled out as candidates, with each English investment zone will given access to interventions worth £80m over five years, including tax reliefs and grant funding.

Colin Sinclair, CEO of Knowledge Quarter Liverpool (KQ Liverpool), welcomed investment zone news: “This is welcome news for the City Region and the Knowledge Quarter Liverpool Innovation District (KQ Liverpool). We very much hope that the new investment zones will be pivotal to raising aspirations, accelerating R&D and driving inclusive growth, creating skilled jobs for the people of the City, the Region and beyond.

“In KQ Liverpool, and at nearby Daresbury, Liverpool City Region has world-leading clusters in health and life sciences, (including infection prevention and treatment, civic data and mental health), materials chemistry and advanced manufacturing technologies. The funding and powers that investment zones could bring would give the opportunity to better leverage these existing strengths to supercharge economic growth across the City Region.”

Not specific to the North, but surely likely to be welcomed here, Hunt also announced that ‘draught relief’ on draught beer in pubs will be increased from August 1, meaning draught drinks will be 11p cheaper than supermarket equivalents. He even found time for a gag on the theme, hilariously adding: “British ale may be warm, but the duty on a pint is frozen.”

Don’t quit the day job Jez.

Hunt also noted that the UK will now not enter a technical recession this year according to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), that inflation will more than halve and reduce to 2.9 per cent by the end of the year, also per the OBR.

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