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Businesses need an end to all the doubt

Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his spring statement this afternoon as parliament, and the economy, digested the latest twist in the Brexit saga. Here’s what Shropshire businesses made of it:

Anton Gunter, managing director of Global Freight Services Ltd in Telford, said whilst businesses broadly welcomed an update on the country’s economic situation, the picture was blurred by the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit.

Speaking at today’s Future of International Trade event held at the Marches Growth Hub in Telford, he said: “What businesses really need is an end to all the doubt surrounding Brexit. We need a decision and more clarity on how and when we will depart from the EU.

“Business owners are taking practical and positive steps to prepare for Brexit but the additional planning which this is requiring is costing companies time and money and the uncertainty of the current situation is hampering plans for growth.

Richard Hilton, managing director of Telford drainage and access coverage manufacturer Fabweld Steel Products said the Chancellor’s assertion that economic growth has “defied expectation” was echoed by its own experience.

“Despite the existing uncertainties over Brexit, our order book has remained buoyant and that would support the Government’s claim that the economy is improving. We, like many other manufacturers, have used the time since the referendum to explore new markets both in the UK and abroad and we believe that this will help us in a post Brexit landscape.”

He also welcomed the Government’s pledge to bring forward its £695m commitment to support apprenticeships.

“Apprentices play a large part in our workforce and we have many employees who have grown into managerial positions after starting with us as trainees. It’s a key way to ensure we can future proof our business and reducing the cost of employing apprentices to businesses like ours will help,” said Richard.

“Anything that can be done to encourage more young people into vocational qualifications that benefit manufacturers is to be welcomed.”

Paul Brown, tax partner at Whittingham Riddell, said: "At least, as far as the Spring Statement 2019 is concerned, no-one could accuse Philip Hammond of not being a man of his word.

"When he announced the move to a full autumn Budget he stated that the Spring Statement would not be a full fiscal event and certainly, from a tax point of view, he was as good as his word. The Spring Statement was pretty much a non-event and for those of us used to desperately clicking through huge lists of Budget announcements in the middle of March, this is something of a shock to the system.

"Of course, this is hardly surprising, given the timing of the speech being sandwiched between the rejection of the proposed exit deal with the EU and the vote on the potential for “no deal”.

"Indeed, Mr Hammond used the platform to make it very clear that the current uncertainty was damaging the economy and that a no deal exit from the EU would cause significant disruption in the short to medium term. 

FBC Manby Bowdler Brexit Director Peter Wilding supported the Chancellor's call for a smooth and orderly exit from the EU.

He said: "A resolution on Brexit is required urgently for the sake of businesses and the future growth of the economy. We need an agreed deal to help safeguard future employment, wages and to limit disruption going forward."

Responding to publication of the Chancellor’s Written Ministerial Statement on the Spring Statement, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman and local businessman Mike Cherry said:

“Against a backdrop of debilitating political uncertainty, the Chancellor has rightly responded to calls from the small business community today.

“Small business confidence has suffered an unprecedented slump in recent months as firms are unable to plan, invest and hire for the future. In the coming weeks, business owners will have Making Tax Digital, higher auto-enrolment contributions and fresh business rates hikes to contend with.      

“It’s good to see the Government offering a reprieve on this front, going further in its commitment to light touch enforcement of Making Tax Digital, following our warnings about the costs of rule changes. This commitment must be honoured. It should also be extended if unexpected issues with the new system arise.     

“Equally, extending the freeze on further roll-out of MTD from 2020 to 2021 is a welcome move. The Government should now rule out extension of MTD to firms below the VAT threshold until the end of this parliament at the earliest, in 2022. A full review of the roll-out will be needed in the months ahead."

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “Today the Chancellor claimed to support housing delivery but actions speak louder than words and the burdensome and poorly thought-through biodiversity targets for developers will bring yet more costs and more delays for builders.

"Just as the environment for SME house builders starts to improve, these measures could end up stalling our progress. The Government wants to make developers, large and small, increase the biodiversity on their sites by a whopping 110 per cent and for an average site of ten units, the additional cost could be in excess of £2,000. Needless to say, this would also create delays to projects by adding additional hurdles for builders to negotiate during the already bureaucratic planning process.”


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