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Autumn Budget - what local businesses made of it

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his autumn statement on November 22: And the verdict from business was . . .?

Ruth Ross, Shropshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive, said: “The British Chambers of Commerce asked the Chancellor to focus on key issues that impact business, including planning, full expensing, the energy grid, and business rates.

“We are delighted to see these reflected in his announcement – as well as a commitment to helping to solve issues around late payments, which disproportionately impacts the cashflow of many smaller businesses.

“A rise in the National Living Wage is clearly good news for lower-paid workers, but we must also be aware that businesses will be looking to pass on part of this by raising prices.

“It is estimated that abolishing class two national insurance, and changes to class four national insurance will save the average self-employed worker in Shropshire around £350 a year, which will be welcomed.

“Our local pubs, and the wider wine and spirits industry, will also be delighted at the  freeze on alcohol duty, having taken a battering over recent years.

“Business investment is the lifeblood of local economies, creating jobs and supporting our public services. Smaller firms will be relieved to see a package of measures that alleviate the cashflow problems they face, such as continued business rates relief for hospitality, retail and leisure.

“While the announcements today signal a step in the right direction for business investment and to stimulate growth, we now need to see the Government move quickly to engage with businesses in the creation of a long-term industrial and green energy strategy.

“This will give the confidence for businesses to invest and make full benefit of the tax deductions announced today.”

Anton Gunter, managing director at Global Freight Services in Telford, said today’s decision by the Chancellor to support small business growth was to be welcomed.

He said: “We very much welcome the package of measures announced to support business growth for SMEs and in particular the move to strengthen support for exporting.

“The opportunities for small businesses to export their products and services globally are huge whether they operate from a garden shed or multiple production sites and so anything that encourages more businesses to trade internationally has to be a good thing. 

“As a nation we need to be more ambitious and making sure companies can sell their goods into global markets confidently is essential.”

Mr Gunter also welcomed plans for the new West Midlands Investment Zone saying this would also put a real focus on business growth across the region.

Neil Lloyd, managing partner of law firm FBC Manby Bowdler, said the Chancellor’s decision to make full expensing permanent would be welcomed by firms across Shropshire and the West Midlands.

He said: “Every business needs regular investment if it is to grow and thrive, and extending this tax relief will provide certainty for business owners and could persuade many to commit to the new buildings, equipment and jobs that their business needs.

“This tax relief is expensive though, costing the Treasury about £10bn a year, so the Chancellor will have to offset it with less popular policies elsewhere.

“For small businesses, which account for the vast majority of enterprises across Shropshire and the West Midlands, the package of 110 measures to support business growth is also welcomed as is plans for the new West Midlands investment zone.”

Steven Owen, managing director of Shropshire construction company Pave Aways, said Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement included some positive announcements.

“I wholeheartedly welcome the Chancellor’s focus on business and growth, particularly business tax cuts and the extension of the “full expensing” tax relief scheme which is vital to support investment.

“The creation of an Investment Zone focused on Wrexham will bring a big boost to North East Wales and the 110 measures to drive growth will deliver a huge boost for the many small Shropshire and Mid Wales contractors and businesses which make up our supply chain.

“We are passionate about supporting and developing the economy of our local community and I am delighted the Chancellor has recognised the need to help this vital sector.

"I also welcome the changes to the planning system announced in the Autumn Statement. The country needs new homes and we need to get the property market moving again, so anything which removes barriers to planning and development is a positive move.”

Bekki Phillips, Chief Operating Officer of In-Comm Training, said:  “After decades of being in the shadows of universities, it was refreshing to see vocational learning play such a prominent role in the Chancellor’s speech today.

"The headline will no doubt be the £50m additional investment in pilots that encourage more apprenticeships into engineering and manufacturing.

"This is music to our ears as a specialist provider to this sector and comes just a few weeks after we announced our record cohort intake, with 200 new apprentices recruited at our Aldridge and Telford academies. In reality, we had a further 40 vacancies at local employers, so the company demand is definitely there.

"It was also pleasing to see an increase in wages for apprentices for their first year of training. This is significant and will mean that vocational learners will be further valued as members of the workforce rather than, what has traditionally happened, been regarded as cheap labour. 

"Hopefully, this will encourage youngsters to embark on an apprenticeship rather than seek employment in areas, such as fast food and retail – sectors that might offer immediate higher returns, but fewer long-term prospects.

"If there was one thing missing from the skills announcement, it was the urgent need to take the training levy a step further, so that it goes beyond apprenticeships and fund qualifications and courses specific to industry needs."

Nathan Blissett, principal mortgage adviser and founder at Dwello Mortgages in Telford,welcomed the extension of the Mortgage Guarantee Scheme which supports the availability of 95% Loan-to-Value mortgage products. 
"Even though it wasn't highlighted in the Commons as one of the 110 Autumn Statement measures, we are very pleased to read that the Mortgage Guarantee Scheme will be extended beyond December 31st 2023 which was when it was due to end. 
"This scheme, which has already proved helpful to so many, will now run for a further 18 months to help prospective borrowers to get onto the property ladder. The 5% deposit means more people will be able to access mortgage products which they may not have been able to access from January 1st 2024 if this scheme had not been extended.
"There are still challenges ahead in the property market but this is certainly good news for buyers. We look forward to helping more people to buy their first home in the coming months."
Karen McLellan, Financial Director of iconsys, a specialist in the integration of automation, control systems, robotics, and autonomous vehicles, said:  “There is a definite attempt to improve business confidence today from the Chancellor and, without doubt, the permanent implementation of the ‘super-deduction’ scheme will be welcomed by many given the cash flow benefit and relative ease of the scheme.
"This will be a huge boost to improve the viability of future investment plans for many of our clients and our own ongoing growth and expansion plans.
"That said, this must be balanced against high interest rates which won’t be falling any time soon, which may counter investment plans. The OBR have now downgraded economic growth rates for 2024 and 2025 and the Bank of England are predicting that the economy will be stagnant for some time to come. Therefore, whilst it’s great to see this announcement today, we need a stable economic framework to be able to truly capitalise on it.
"Also welcome was the Chancellor’s recent announcement of a long-term strategy for 2025-2030, with a £4.5 billion fund for the advanced manufacturing sector - a range of loans and grants that will be available to sectors that we serve, including automotive, aerospace, and green energy to improve the transition to Net Zero and improve competitiveness.
"This is sorely needed and long overdue, as we are clearly lagging behind many of our European counterparts. It’s also encouraging to see the creation of further expansion of investment zones, especially in the West Midlands where our smart factory is based.

Wayne Carter, managing director of Telford manufacturing company Fabweld Steel Products, said the Chancellor’s funding boost for the manufacturing sector was a “pleasant surprise” and particularly welcomed the focus to support plans for net zero transition.

The company, which designs access covers for the water, energy and security industries, is committed to operating in a sustainable way and reducing its impact on the environment and has installed solar panels and implemented changes to reduce direct emissions and the emissions related to its energy use.

Wayne said: “The Chancellor’s £4.5bn investment programme shows a real commitment to the industry. But it’s his £960m Green Industries Growth Accelerator that’s really caught our eye. This could prove invaluable.

“Supply chain issues caused by Covid and volatile energy prices highlighted how vulnerable our industry was to geopolitical and world events. That’s why we wanted to take back control – with investment in the greenest way possible – to benefit the planet, the business, customers and employees.

“We’re now seeing our commitment to clean energy at FSP paying off, but we’ve been lobbying local government and parliament for support for a while now, so to feel heard is a huge relief.

“But the fight’s not over yet. All we can do is hope that this investment proves to be transformative for the sector. The UK remains a world-leader in cutting emissions, having decarbonised faster than any G7 country since 1990, but we’ve still a long way to go for manufacturing to play its part in achieving Net Zero by 2050.”

Tina McKenzie, Policy Chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “Jeremy Hunt has today taken very welcome action on late payments, small businesses’ rates, and self-employed taxation. Small businesses – and the 16 million people who work for them – are the route to future growth that will raise living standards across the whole country.

“The Chancellor and his Treasury team deserve credit for driving pro-small business change and for listening to and working closely with FSB and its small business members to address the real concerns of businesses - and acting to help build future prosperity.

“The Chancellor is right to have condemned from the despatch box the scourge of late payment practices.

“Driving out the worst payers from Government contracts and increasing the reputational risk faced by those large corporates who use their small suppliers as a form of free credit is not only the right thing to do to lessen the absolute stress and strain so many business owners face – it is also the way to increase the amount of working capital small businesses can put to good use building up their businesses and investing in the future.

“This is real leadership on this issue and we look forward to continuing to work with the Government, including the Business Secretary, to drive out bad payment practices.

“The UK’s four-million self-employed people play a hugely important role in the labour market and in building growth across the whole economy.

“The Chancellor’s decision to reduce the rate of self-employed National Insurance, and abolish the Class II element, are extremely welcome, easing the burden on strivers up and down the country.

“FSB has long campaigned for the abolition of the Class II element of National Insurance and the reduction of Class IV, and we are therefore pleased that the Chancellor has acted.

Alasdair Hobbs, an employment lawyer and managing director of Human Results HR consultants in Telford, said: “The announcement of another significant increase in the National Living Wage will likely result in some redundancies and price rises in many industry sectors.
“Pressure will increase on margins in social care which will be bad news for those businesses who can’t simply ask for more money from local authority budgets. The unseen cost will be the pressure to raise the wages for those who are already on a higher salary than the National Living Wage who will be expected to be supervisors and trainers of the new starters.”

Seb Slater, executive director of Shrewsbury BID, said: “Along with other BIDs across the UK, we have been arguing for a number of years that business rates have risen to incredibly challenging levels so this increased discount is very welcome.  
“We have calculated that around 313 retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in the town centre have been eligible to receive the 75% discount, which is a welcome boost in the face of rising operating costs.
“The Chancellor’s statement contained good news for the hospitality industry, with the freeze in alcohol duty sure to be welcomed as long as it is able to be reflected in the prices seen by traders.”
More than 300 traders in Shrewsbury town centre have been eligible for a 75% discount on business rates since April, which is now being extended for another year.

Rachel Laver, the chief executive of the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership, said moves to reduce business taxation and promote economic growth were welcome in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis and economic difficulties of the last year.

But she said the Government needed to do more to help businesses meet their Net Zero and environmental responsibilities.

“The focus on business growth in today’s statement was certainly welcome and something we would hope is carried through into March’s Budget and beyond,” Rachel said.

“The abolition of Class 2 National Insurance and reduction of the rate in Class 4 are a boost for our self-employed business community. Small businesses too will benefit from the freezing of the small business multiplier and we’re pleased the Chancellor has extended 75% business rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure until 2025.

“The long-term commitment around full expensing will help businesses invest and plan whilst the cut in employee National Insurance will put more money back in workers’ pockets.

“But there needs to be support for businesses to help them do the right thing in regard to the environment and Net Zero. The success of our Marches Energy Grant – which offers firms an energy audit and grant help to introduce energy-saving and Net Zero measures – shows that the appetite is there for such measures.

“There is a need for the Government to drive the change required and work with organisations such as the Marches Growth Hub – the LEP’s business support service – to ensure that businesses are given every opportunity to innovate and take action to reduce emissions and protect the future of the planet.

“Encouraging the take-up of new technologies, promoting innovation and working with business and partners to fill the UK’s skills gap can help drive the growth the country needs and boost productivity in a truly sustainable way.”