‘While investing is vital, there will be no progress without also investing in our people’
As the dust begins to settle on another Budget from the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, the business view is that all-in-all it was rock solid. The Budget recognised the enormous contribution enterprise has made to balancing the UK’s books in recent years through jobs, pay and tax – and the Chancellor has listened to many of the ideas that firms have made on how to future-proof our economy.
It was great to see the inclusion of new investment in rural broadband, research, housing and infrastructure, all key issues in our region, that will help tackle the UK’s glaring regional inequalities head on. As many of you know, poor internet access can make-orbreak small enterprises outside of urban areas and as a CBI survey last year showed that over half of businesses are dissatisfied with the state of infrastructure in their region. This stuff matters.
While investing is vital, there will be no progress without also investing in our people. Firms are aware of the need to develop skills for the future, and highquality apprenticeships play a critical role. But, the current apprenticeship levy system is still not working. We’ve urged for urgent reform of the system and it looks like progress is being made on this front.
We must help new and current staff adapt to a fast-changing world of work. Furthermore, the Chancellor also came up trumps with a bumper package to spur firms to invest more into their factories and machinery.
But it’s definitely not pat-on-thebacks all round. There were some announcements that certainly raised eyebrows.
The business rates support for SMEs will provide real relief to our high streets where boarded up shops are all too common a sight. Yet, the Budget failed to recognise the very same burden on larger enterprises. At a time where we hear of retailer woes by the week among some of our biggest names, the government cannot ignore larger retailers, and indeed manufacturers. These firms will continue to be burdened by disproportionate rates, without an in-depth review of the whole system.
With technology changing the world around us, from the way we work, shop and run our businesses. The introduction of a digital service tax is an attempt to come up with a simple solution to a complex problem – and ensure that our tax system keeps pace.
But going it alone on a digital services tax would be high risk. The Government should move in step internationally, leading multilateral solutions, carefully built on evidence from a wide range of enterprises of all sizes or risk losing our global competitive edge in digital.
It wasn’t a real surprise to see the end for new Public Finance Initiatives, given its chequered history. But the important question now is how a new model of business working to deliver government projects will run – otherwise major Government projects may not get out of the starting blocks.
Finally – and how could we forget – there is no hiding from the dark clouds of Brexit uncertainty. Our recent survey showed
Brexit has become a drain on investment, with eight out of ten firms stating it’s had a negative impact on investment decisions. From a multinational plastics manufacturer which has cancelled a £7m investment to a fashion house shelving £50m plans for a new UK factory, these are grave losses to our economy.
The Chancellor has made clear that this Budget will need urgent attention in the event of
‘no deal’, showing yet again the seriousness of the situation and the need to get a good deal over the line.
So overall, there’s much for business to get behind from this latest Budget, which brought more treats than tricks for our retailers, manufacturers and many more besides.