CEO’s Column – Louise Punter, Surrey Chambers

29th November 2017

This week’s column could not be written without significant reference to the Budget delivered by the Chancellor last Wednesday. At Surrey Chambers of Commerce we were quick off the mark with a breakfast arranged with our patrons Wilkins Kennedy to update businesses less than 20 hours after the speech. Some notable areas covered were;

Business Rates

On a subject that we as chambers have been lobbying government for a long time we felt we had success with the changes to rates. The switch from RPI to CPI indexation is a step in the right direction. However, this still leaves firms facing a 3% increase in April. The government could have done more to boost confidence and productivity by going further, and abandoning the uprating altogether this year, given the climate of sluggish growth and uncertainty but we are pleased that the Chancellor has listened and taken some action. Despite the inclusion of a number of announcements that will support business communities in the short term, more will still need to be done over the coming months to lay the groundwork for a successful Brexit transition. Businesses will expect greater boldness from the Chancellor – and more radical support for infrastructure and investment – once a Brexit transition period is secured and the shape of a UK-EU deal becomes clearer.

Investment and R&D

The aspiration to boost investment in research and development has been welcomed by our members. The UK has long under-invested in R&D compared to our international competitors, and closing this gap will be crucial if the UK is to thrive on the global stage after we leave the European Union. However, businesses will eye the details carefully. Past efforts to increase private-sector R&D have often failed to connect with small companies. Government will need to work with our business community to ensure we don’t make the mistakes of the past, but instead build the innovation economy we all want to see. It was good to see the boost for 5G technology, which hopefully will be felt locally up at the 5G Technology Centre at the University of Surrey.

VAT Threshold

A number of our members will breathe a huge sigh of relief that the Chancellor has decided not to reduce the VAT threshold in the near term. At a time when firms are facing rising upfront cost pressures and uncertainty over Brexit, a lowering of the VAT threshold could well have proved to be a tipping point for many small firms and entrepreneurs. We hope that Ministers and civil servants will work closely with the business community, tax experts and other stakeholders to ensure that any future changes to the VAT system doesn’t stifle the business activity of some of our most promising young firms and entrepreneurs.

Building new homes

There is no doubt that there is demand for more housing; nowhere more than in Surrey. However, the increased focus on using brownfield land for housing must not push up prices or drive out employment uses, exacerbating the current imbalance in the supply of land for jobs and homes. This is a growing concern locally where we often hear of our growing businesses struggling to find suitable sites so it’s disappointing not to see an intelligent use of greenbelt land. The planning system needs to work better for business, and the new review body needs to include the business voice. We stand ready to work with government on this important exercise to bring our expertise. Our research reveals that businesses are finding it harder to engage with the planning system, and are being held back by increasing costs, delays and complexity.

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