CORONAVIRUS was at the forefront of most people’s minds last week as new Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his maiden Budget – and indeed, the Budget contained £5bn to support the NHS and other public services in the battle against the virus.

It also contained a £600bn spending spree.

But what will it mean for the North-East and Tynedale in particular?

The Budget acknowledges that the North-East had the slowest average growth of all regions in Britain between 1998 and 2018, at 1.5 per cent.

Following the election victory that saw several long-standing Labour seats turn blue, Boris Johnson promised the area would be “levelled up”, as detailed in the party’s manifesto.

However, until now we’ve seen little of what that will actually mean.

In practice, the Budget allocates £198m for the North-East as part of the Transforming Cities Fund, which includes £95m for the Tyne and Wear Metro.

Other measures include international trade advisers focused on the so-called Northern Powerhouse to provide support to Northern exporters, and £12m to fund full fibre broadband in the North of Tyne Area.

Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman praised the Budget’s agricultural aspects, which include changes to red diesel tax relief and tree planting.

Mr Opperman said: “I was also delighted to see agriculture and forestry exempted from changes to red diesel tax relief, as well as a freeze on fuel duty which will hugely benefit rural motorists.

“The bold vision for planting 40 million trees and restoring 35,000 hectares of peatland could be a real game changer too.”

The freeze on fuel duty has been criticised in some quarters due to the impact of cars on the environment – but in the rural Tyne Valley, with limited public transport and where cycling isn’t always an option unless you happen to be Mark Cavendish, the news is sure to be welcomed.

Also popular was the announcement that the minimum wage will increase to £10.50 an hour by 2024, as well as changes to national insurance.

Mr Opperman continued: “This is a massive plan for delivering on the Conservative manifesto over the period of this parliament.

“The Chancellor announced a living wage increase to £10.50 per hour by 2024, an increase to the National Insurance threshold to £9,500, as well as a swath of measures to support business, enterprise and R & D, and to deliver infrastructure investment here in the North-East.”

The five per cent VAT on women’s sanitary products – known as the tampon tax – will also be scrapped.

It’s not all good news though. The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts a 1.1 per cent growth in 2020, which would be the lowest growth since 2009.

Furthermore, that figure doesn’t take into account the impact of Coronavirus on the economy.

And financial watchdog, the Institute For Fiscal Studies, said the plans were not as generous as they appear.

Paul Johnson, director at the institute, said: “Average annual increases of 2.8 per cent sound substantial; take account of the need to replace EU funding and factor in planned increases for health, schools, defence and overseas aid but there is relatively little here for other departments.

“If this spending envelope is stuck to, there are plenty of public services which will not be enjoying much in the way of spending increases over the next few years.”