Business groups and owners have been reflecting on George Osborne’s Autumn Statement in which the chancellor set out a number of plans to keep the tentative economic recovery on track.
In his speech the chancellor pointed to several indicators that the UK economy is heading in the right direction once more, revealing that forecast economic growth for 2013 was now set to double from previous estimates made in March.
Osborne announced a number of measures affecting the channel, including capping business rates at 2% – they had been set to rise by 3.2% next year – more financing for start-up funding packages and help with training and apprenticeships, as well as a Fuel Duty freeze.
Significantly, Osborne also announced £250m of new lending to support SMEs, and a consultation on how to address issues around SME creditworthiness.
Phil Orford, chief exec of the Forum of Private Business said many of the measures would potentially be worth thousands of pounds to small businesses.
However, he argued that the extension to Small Business Rate Relief and the cap on business rates were at the lower end of what the FPB was lobbying for.
“We feel there needs to be a more fundamental review of business rates and the link to inflation, also better transparency over where the rates go,” he said.
With regard to SME lending, Orford said: “This is £250 million for new programmes to specifically support smaller businesses, in addition to the £1 billion new capital allocated at last year’s Autumn Statement. This, together with the refocusing of Funding for Lending on small businesses, will help address issues of confidence in SMEs that they can get money to make investment.”
Orford also welcomed measures to incentivise small business owners to take on young people by scrapping employer National Insurance contributions for under-21s, as well as pushing college and university students towards science, technology, engineering mathematics (STEM) subjects with a £50m pot for higher education tuition, and direct funding for the training costs of apprentices.
In the channel, Imerja MD Ian Jackson was also pleased to learn of the government’s pledges around STEM tuition and skills.
“We're encouraged by the government's continued support of the technology sector with both short and long term solutions. The industry is facing a skills shortage and measures such as these will help in addressing it,” he said.
“Ours is a sector which has the potential to get the British economy back on track, and we're pleased that this has been continually recognised by the policy makers,” added Jackson.