The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement contains promising news for local firms and would-be workers according to the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce.
Attention elsewhere might have been centred on George Osborne’s decisions regarding tax credit cuts and police funding but there were plenty of stories to keep the business community occupied.
Among those were: the extension of small business rate relief for another year; the scrapping of uniform business rates by the end of Parliament; the creation of 26 new enterprise zones.
There will also be a 50 per cent increase in transport capital spending to £61 billion, as well as the setting of an apprenticeship levy at 0.5 per cent of an employer’s wage bill.
As a result, Mr Osborne is targeting a total of three million apprenticeships by the year 2020.
“Any announcement which provides promising news, both for companies and our future workers, is something to be applauded,” said Babs Murphy, the Chamber’s Chief Executive.
“The relief of small business rate is obviously a benefit for the local firms among the 600,000 nationwide who stand to gain from this announcement.
“What is also pleasing is the news on apprenticeships; we need to develop the next generation of locally-based, skilled workers in order to prevent a ‘brain drain’ elsewhere and the apprenticeship levy should hopefully encourage this.”
Having issued an early press release moments after Mr Osborne’s speech, praising the ‘builder’ Chancellor for a ‘Statement that the majority of businesses will applaud,’ the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) provided a more measured response later on.
There was some caution over the proposed apprenticeship levy, although there was backing for the small business rate relief extension.
“Although we finally have clarity over the threshold of the apprenticeship levy, it will hurt larger businesses who will have to pay what is effectively a payroll tax,” said John Longworth, the BCC’s Director General.
“It is important that the delivery of the levy doesn’t undermine other types of vocational training, which could be better suited to some businesses. The priority must be delivering high quality apprenticeships, viewed positively by employers. Otherwise this is simply another cash cow from business that will not have the desired effect.
“Extending the small business rate relief scheme will support businesses across the country while the broader shape of a reformed business rates system is determined.
“We will continue to work with the government to ensure that business concerns over our broken rates system are met.”