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Issue:- 6 November  2012

The Forum of Private Business reacts to the Autumn Statement

AUTUMN Statement should provide some much-needed seasonal cheer for most SMEs, says lobby group like The Forum of Private Business, who have welcomed much of what was in Autumn Statement. The Forum described it as a helpful springboard for UK economic growth in 2013 and beyond.

The business lobby group welcomed a number of the schemes outlined by the Chancellor, such as a 10 fold increase in the Annual Investment Allowance, a 25% increase in the budget of UKTI to promote exporting, and the outright cancellation of January's planned fuel duty rise. "A 3p rise in January would have been nothing short of economic vandalism in the current climate. In fact it would have been hard to imagine a worse start to 2013 for the UK economy. No doubt the Chancellor will have heard the nation's collective sigh of relief at the news January's hike has not just been delayed, but abandoned altogether. Fuel prices have reached a cliff edge, and the Chancellor has acknowledged this with this announcement. He has also clearly heeded the overwhelming objections from small businesses that high fuel prices are hampering their own growth ambitions on a number of levels. We had urged the Treasury to commit to the concept of a fuel duty stabiliser by the end of the current Parliament, so what we have here is temporary relief instead of a serious policy change with real lasting benefits, but we can't see many businesses bemoaning that just yet." said the Forum's Chief Executive, Phil Orford.

The Forum also pointed to more good news for SMEs in the shape of an extension to Small Business Rate Relief, and a 10 fold increase to Annual Investment Allowance up to £250,000.  "The increase in the Annual Investment Allowance to £250,000 is welcome but a tacit admission that the decision to cut the same allowance to £25,000 this year was a wrong one. Given that UK businesses are currently sitting on £700bn of cash reserves, it could be argued that the earlier actions of the Chancellor created a disincentive to invest through 2012, at a time when business needs confidence to create growth. Nevertheless, we welcome this increase and urge businesses to take advantage of it. There are big savings to be had here for firms who've been waiting for the right time to invest and upgrade equipment, and this kind of spending tends to wash right down the supply chain. We also massively welcome the news on SBBR, as will our members. This is a really important element of the Chancellor's statement for small business." said the Forum's Chief Executive, Phil Orford.

On the Chancellor's intention to employ 1,500 more tax inspectors to clamp down on aggressive tax avoidance by big firms, he added:- "Tackling tax avoidance is of course a sensible measure. HMRC have in the past focused too much on the SME end of the spectrum, so we see this as a healthy rebalance, but the likes of Starbucks have brought this on themselves. We are now starting to see a change in attitudes, with large corporates beginning to understand the need to contribute more to the Exchequer, and therefore the coffers of UK plc."

In conclusion:- "Overall the capital allowances, fuel duty postponement and SBRR suggest this is a good budget for small businesses in terms of cutting day to day costs. This is what we wanted to see, and to a degree we got that. Whilst of course it is disappointing that government is missing some debt targets, the overall forecast suggests the Government should stay the course it is charting to maintain confidence in our economy. It is essential because the Government's own credit rating is essential to some of its schemes such as Funding for Lending. We wait to hear more on the Business Bank, and of course just how much of the Heseltine Review the Government is taking seriously come spring."


COMMENTING on the Autumn Statement, Melanie Christie, The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) North West Regional Director, said:- "The Chancellor has gone for growth and wants to show that the UK is open for business. The reduction in corporation tax will be welcome news for larger companies and will encourage inward investment. The increase in the Annual Investment Allowance (AIA), which ICAEW called for, will be good news for smaller businesses. The Chancellor will hope that the new measures will impress the 67% of ICAEW business members who are not confident that the Government's Plan A for the economy will deliver growth this Parliament. There are still a number of juggernaut policies devised in Treasury by people who do not understand the realities of running businesses. Policies such as the new PAYE reporting system will create additional burdens on business at a time when they should be focusing on growth. Until these policies are made more flexible, deficit reduction will continue to be slow and growth will take longer."

Also adding to the growing list of voices are the trade unions like UNISON. Commenting on Chancellor George Osborne's, autumn statement, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, said:- "This statement is more proof that the Chancellor neither knows nor cares about what ordinary working people in this country are going through. The austerity agenda means that families across the country have even less to spend on everyday essentials, while tax winners at the top have more. Raising personal tax allowances is small beer for families facing rising food and energy bills. The budget in March was certainly not the Chancellor's finest hour and the statement today will do nothing to restore confidence in his ability to drag the country back into growth. It is time to give the economy an adrenalin shot. The Chancellor's plans are simply not working, his economic policies are in tatters; debt is rising, growth is flat lining and unemployment is still unacceptably high. We heard nothing today that showed the Government is prepared to face the challenge head on and invest substantially in infrastructure, in building much needed homes, and putting money into people's pockets to get them spending and boosting the economy."

Gary Smith, GMB National Secretary for Energy, said:- "On UK energy policy there are 2 jockeys on the horse which can only lead to 1 outcome... more confusion. It is madness to burn more gas to produce electriCity when wholesale prices are on an upward trajectory. Gas prices could go up 30% in the next few years; probably 5 years or so. Burning gas for electriCity will only force up prices further. Also gas fired power stations are not making any money at the moment. It is nonsense to say there is a huge appetite amongst energy companies to build more gas fired plants given that the current economics just don't add up. There are also reports that government plans to set up a new nationalised Gas Board to develop new gas fields. This is in addition to the new nationalised Central ElectriCity Purchasing Board (CEPR) announced last week to guarantee prices to electriCity generators. We are seeing the partial re-nationalisation of the energy industry by the Tories who privatised it."

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