Business leaders in Greater Birmingham today highlighted “one glaring omission” in a business-positive speech from the Chancellor.
Great Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC) said that while there were plenty of positive announcements for businesses in today’s Budget, there was no mention of Greater Birmingham or the West Midlands.
Henrietta Brealey (pictured), policy and strategic relations director at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC), said: “While devolved nations, the Northern Powerhouse and beyond received a number of nods, the news for the West Midlands was buried in the Budget Red Book.
“It is clear from the announcements that there is still work to be done on promoting further devolution to English regions which still lag behind devolved nations and London on funding.”
On the positive side, Ms Brealey said: “Many businesses will welcome the news on the increase to the Annual Investment Allowance (something the British Chambers of Commerce has been lobbying for some time), postponing implementation of IR35 Reform to 2020 and confirmation that VAT thresholds will not be changed for the next two years.
“The news on additional funding to support Brexit preparations is also a sensible move given where we are in negotiations. However, it is crucial that part of that funding is targeted at front line support for businesses preparing for the impact of Brexit.
“There was no mention of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (the Government’s preferred model for replacing ESIF Funding post-Brexit). As Brexit looms, it is crucial that the Government provides clarity on how this fund will operate. Many employer growth and skills related programmes are currently funded by ESIF.
“We welcome the news that small firms’ contribution to apprenticeships will halve. Apprenticeships represent a real opportunity for firms looking to train and upskill employees and for those looking for vocational routes into work.
“There’s no denying that apprenticeship starts are down significantly since implementation of the apprenticeship levy and the last major round of apprenticeship reforms.
“Today’s announcement will reduce one barrier preventing small firms from accessing apprenticeships. However, the system remains complicated to navigate and further reforms will be needed in order to ensure businesses can understand and access it effectively.
“The Budget included a significant package of support for the armed forces and veterans. As signatories of the Armed Forces Covenant we welcome the support shown for our armed forces and veterans.”
Raj Kandola, senior policy adviser at the GBCC, said: “Whilst it’s good to see the Government easing the business rate burden for SMEs based on the high street, the policy makers are simply tinkering at the edges of a fraying system.
“Clearly more reform around restructuring the appeal system to reduce bureaucracy, remodelling the relief system to increase accessibility and removing plant and machinery from the rating system is still required if we are to fully modernise an outmoded tax which is destroying profit margins and ultimately inhibiting growth.”
On air quality, Mr Kandola said: “Buried in the small print was £20m in additional funding to help local authorities to meet their air quality obligations. Given that Birmingham alone is looking for £35m to implement a Clean Air Zone by 2020, serious questions will be asked around the prospect of local cities meeting their legislative requirements in relation to air pollution levels.”
He said that on infrastructure the Chamber welcomed the commitment to improving our transport networks across the full spectrum of the Strategic Road Network, Major Road Network and for local roads in order to fix potholes, renew bridges and tunnels.
He added: “Greater investment will not only lead to greater connectivity but also provide a much-needed shot in the arm to productivity levels.
“Nevertheless, we would have liked to see the Chancellor reiterate his concrete support for HS2 and in particular, verbalise the strategic importance that Phase 2 will play in rebalancing the economy and boosting prosperity across the region.”