A project Michael Gove reportedly mimed being flushed down the toilet has been given a new lease of life by last week’s autumn statement.
Supporters believe a so-called “Oxford-Cambridge Arc” could bring billions into the economy by rivalling Silicon Valley. However, it was ditched as a priority when Boris Johnson’s administration concentrated on appealing to “red wall” voters in the north of England.
The Arc is a vision to create a British version of the Californian innovation and technology hub between the two university cities and their neighbour Milton Keynes, through investment in infrastructure, housing and laboratory space.
But setting out his plans in his first major statement as chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced plans to help Britain challenge the home of Apple, eBay and Zoom.
A Treasury source insisted Mr Hunt was talking about the whole country when he talked of Silicon Valley, but added that the return of the Oxford-Cambridge project was “possible”.
Adam Hawksbee, interim director of the Onward think tank, said it was “great news if the OxCam Arc project is back on the cards – a lack of lab space and housing in and around some of our most productive economic hubs is holding back growth”.
“Levelling up needs to be about these sorts of projects as well as interventions in left behind parts of the North,” he added.
Former Labour cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a former chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), said he strongly supported a revival of the Arc, which he described as a “key growth priority” for the country. “There is a massive shortage of housing and business/research facilities across the arc. And transport links are lamentable. All this needs to be sorted in a systematic way, as the NIC proposed when I was its founding chair.”
Earlier this year, the Financial Times reported that a Tory MP told a meeting of local constituents in Cambridgeshire that, when asked about the scheme, Mr Gove had mimed to him sitting on a lavatory and pulling the chain, adding: “That’s what’s happened to the Arc.”
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt is not in control of some of his tax rises and is leaving them to be “randomly” decided by inflation, a leading think tank has warned.
The chancellor has pitched himself as a sober politician who can repair the damage caused by Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-Budget.
But Tom Waters, a senior economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), said Mr Hunt’s approach in his autumn statement last week had been to freeze “everything he can get his hands on” including the personal tax allowance and other thresholds.
“We’re now in a world where these parameters are going to be frozen in cash terms for years and what a real tax that is depends hugely on what inflation turns out to be,” he said.
“It means the real tax rise we face is kind of random, because of what happens to inflation.”
The phenomenon, part of what has been labelled “stealth taxes”, will occur because as pay packets rise, the threshold at which workers start paying taxes will not, thanks to the freeze.
The Treasury has been approached for comment.