‘While in­vest­ing is vi­tal, there will be no progress with­out also in­vest­ing in our peo­ple’

Yorkshire Post - Business - - FRONT PAGE - Beckie Hart

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.

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