Strong case for devolved government in the Central South, says Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, is keynote speaker at the Business South Annual Conference at the Ageas Bowl Hilton Hotel on November 9
Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, is keynote speaker at the Business South Annual Conference at the Ageas Bowl Hilton Hotel on November 9

A strong case exists for devolved government in the Central South region, says the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Paul Johnson.

Ahead of his headline speaker spot at the Business South Annual Conference on November 9, Paul sat down for an interview with the leading business organisation in the Central South region.

Asked what could make the greatest difference for the future prosperity in the region and allow businesses to thrive, Paul said: “A proper region of joined up government would certainly help. There is a strong case for devolved government covering the sort of geography covered by the Central South.”

Being able to manage our own budgets when it comes to things like transport spending would make a major difference, he said.

Paul is well known as the person who is called on by media outlets to unpick the financial implications of government policy. He is often heard on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and he writes a column for The Times.

He has been Director of the IFS since January 2011 and his career has included spells at HM Treasury, the Department for Education and FSA.

When asked about the responsibility he feels due to his role leading the influential IFS, Paul said: “We have no official role. No one has to listen and we exist only by happenstance – and yet we are quite influential.

“Sometimes it’s easy to forget quite how influential we are. We have to be very, very careful about the strength of what we say – we are in a privileged position of being able to comment without the responsibility of power.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, Paul said he was looking forward to addressing the Business South Conference. He plans to look at the priorities for the UK identified by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the beginning of 2023 and update on where we are when it comes to:

•    getting inflation down and living standards up
•    getting growth going
•    reducing debt

“I will inevitably be talking about the NHS. We have 7.5 million people on NHS waiting lists, five million on disability benefits and half a million people who are out of work with a disability,” he said.

Until six months ago, Paul sat on the Climate Change Committee and is well versed in the challenges facing the country when it comes to making the move to green energy.

“I have some sympathy with Rishi Sunak and the admission he made that we are not going to be in a position in 12 years to ban gas boilers because not every house is capable of having a heat pump.

“The hardest thing is going to be de-carbonising housing. I live in a terraced house in London and I’ve got no idea how to power my house without a gas boiler.

“Looking back, when the country moved from town gas to North Sea gas it took 15 years and involved five visits to every house in the country.

“If we are serious about getting to zero by 2050 it’s a huge undertaking and very expensive at a time when there’s not a lot of money around,” he said.

Group CEO of Business South, Leigh-Sara Timberlake, said she was very much looking forward to welcoming Paul to the conference at the Hilton at the Ageas Bowl.

“We are privileged to welcome Paul as our keynote speaker and we very much look forward to hearing what he has to say.

“We have a fabulous line-up of speakers and it looks set to be a vibrant morning of discussion and idea sharing,” she said.

Business South has joined forces with independent bookshop October Books from Portswood, Southampton and Paul Johnson will be signing copies of his recently published book ‘Follow the Money’ following his speech.

For more details on the Business South Conference and to book your place follow this link: 9th November – Business South Annual Conference | Business South


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