Spring Budget 2023: What the experts say

Experts from the University of Sheffield give their reaction to the 2023 Spring Budget, and Vice-Chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts welcomes the announcement that South Yorkshire has been chosen as the potential location for an investment zone.

Students walking on the concourse with the University of Sheffield's Students' Union and Firth Court buildings on either side

OExperts from the University of Sheffield give their reaction to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's Spring Budget, and Vice-Chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts welcomes the announcement that South Yorkshire has been chosen as the potential location for an investment zone.

On the announcement regarding an investment zone in South Yorkshire: 

This is important news for South Yorkshire and further recognition of the ability of innovation-led clusters to drive different types of investment and growth conditions for businesses of all sizes. 

In South Yorkshire we have already seen how university R&D can drive substantial innovation-led growth. Our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Nuclear AMRC, Translational Energy Research Centre and Gene Therapy Innovation and Manufacturing Centre are just some of the assets that have attracted large companies like Boeing and McLaren Automotive to open new manufacturing facilities on the Sheffield/Rotherham border. 

We look forward to working with our partners in South Yorkshire and beyond to help shape this opportunity for our region.

Professor Koen Lamberts

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield

Professor Koen Lamberts - President & Vice-Chancellor

This is good news for South Yorkshire and I hope it will super charge innovation for growth in the region over the coming years. The details will, as ever, be critical, but I hope this development will enable SYMCA, local authority leaders, business and other key stakeholders to be ambitious, to invest in the vital ingredients of growth - connectivity, skills, technology development, access to finance and inward investment.

For our part, we look forward to working with the Mayor and the team across the region to maximise this opportunity.

Steve Foxley

CEO of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC)

On nuclear power:

I strongly welcome today's announcement and the government's commitment to establish Great British Nuclear to drive delivery of a programme of new nuclear power. Business needs the confidence that this will bring to invest in building industrial capability across the UK. The Nuclear AMRC will ensure that companies have access to the innovative manufacturing capability, resilient supply chains and skills needed to ensure the timely and cost-effective delivery of new nuclear power. 

This is an essential part of our future energy system and a great opportunity to drive jobs, skills development and growth across the UK as shown in our leading role in establishing the recently launched Rolls-Royce Nuclear Skills Academy. Our facilities in Rotherham and Warrington and a new technical facility in Derby will enable us to bring advanced manufacturing capability to support the Great British Nuclear mission in the heart of UK industry. 

Andrew Storer

CEO of the University of Sheffield Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC)

On energy bills:

It is positive news that the energy price guarantee (EPG) is being extended, but household bills are double what they were last year — and they're still effectively going up another £67 per month from 1 April due to the Energy Bills Support Scheme coming to an end. The predictions are that in the summer, with lower wholesale prices, the energy price cap will fall from its current £3,280 to around £2,150 which would be lower than the current EPG of £2,500 – however, this is still over £1,000 more than historical prices since its inception. With the EPG only announced to remain in place until June, many households will still need help beyond this, therefore, it is important to now consider longer-term support that is perhaps more targeted at those most in need.

Professor Dan Gladwin

Professor in Electrical and Control System Engineering from the University of Sheffield's Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering

On Carbon Capture Usage and Storage:

The Budget statement on CCUS is excellent news. Funding has been confirmed for two CO2 transport and storage clusters, on the East and West Coasts, to be started immediately. These will collect CO2 from industries and transport it to secure geological storages sites tens of kilometers offshore and more than a kilometer beneath the sea bed, in the Irish and North Sea. The CO2 will come from new and existing industrial sources. Some of these CO2 capture projects are already at an advanced stage, others will be industrial sites that are motivated to take up the opportunity that now being in a confirmed cluster offers. 

Plans for additional clusters, some of which are likely to be connected by ship and possibly rail to the pipeline-based clusters, can be expected to emerge following the initial funding commitments that the Treasury has said will be announced later this month.  

Overall this is a sound national investment in an area where the UK has intrinsic advantages. It is important, though, to get the best value out of this public support, in terms of assets with long-term value and the preservation and development of wealth creation infrastructure and jobs. A key area will be rapid and effective interchange between industry and researchers, a field in which the University of Sheffield and the UK CCS Research Community Network+ that we host already have strong track records.

Professor Jon Gibbins

Professor of Power Plant Engineering and Carbon Capture from the University of Sheffield's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Centre Director of the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre

"The news that the Chancellor has committed £20 billion to Carbon Capture Usage and Storage is welcome news. However, it is the fine detail of that investment that is important. The Government has a fiduciary duty to the electorate to invest the money from taxation wisely. In the past this has not always been the case as Prime Minister Cameron pointed out in 2015 when the last competition was abruptly cancelled.

We cannot keep repeating past mistakes based on outdated technologies. There needs to be a step change in capture technology that makes it low cost but efficient. We need to consider the full scope 3 emissions of any technology and keep a close eye on the fiscal and financial commitment so that costs do not spiral out of control. Storage will be important as we emit far more carbon dioxide than we can possibly use. However, there are many parts of the UK where this will not be feasible. Usage, or more precisely utilisation, will become increasingly important as we move away from a linear to a circular carbon supply chain model. Recent commitment from Innovate UK through the Flue2Chem project clearly demonstrates this both in its ambition and the stellar array of companies who are committed to it.

There is a need for both the U and S in CCUS and the government needs to recognise this and make investment appropriate to both.

Professor Peter Styring

Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry from the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

On childcare and early childhood education:

Additional public funding to ease the pressure on family budgets will always be welcomed, but what is proposed is insufficient and unlikely to resolve the ongoing crisis in early childhood education and care provision. The stated change in the staff-to-child ratios for two-year-olds will allow providers, if they wish, to employ fewer adults to work with these young children, despite a government consultation confirming overwhelming opposition to this move. The most essential resource in early childhood provision is the professionals who work with them. Allowing more children to be the responsibility of each adult working with them would rob these young children of the quality adult time they need. Cutting costs for parents by giving less to their two-year-olds, and adding to the stress for early years practitioners, is morally wrong and counterproductive. 

The additional £204m announced for this year is also not sufficient to address existing funding concerns across the sector, meaning  providers of early childhood education and care for children under five years are still likely to struggle with unsustainable budgets.

The planned expansion of provision announced will require an enhanced early years workforce, who are skilled to deliver the increased number of places for babies and young children. The initial training and continuing professional development of the whole of the early years workforce must be prioritised, as must their recruitment and retention. It’s time to recognise the important role those who work with young children play in their learning and development - quality provision for all young children requires effective and sustained investment.

Professor Dame Cathy Nutbrown

Professor of Education from the University of Sheffield's School of Education