East Anglia: What business leaders want from the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement

AS CHANCELLOR George Osborne gets set to deliver his Autumn Statement tomorrow, business writer Sarah Chambers unveils what Suffolk and Essex business leaders would like to see in his economic plans – and what they expect.

THE country’s economic outlook will come into sharp focus tomorrow when the Chancellor makes his Autumn Statement.

But while it is likely that George Osborne will have little room for manoeuvre in kick-starting further growth plans, business leaders across the eastern region have revealed what medicine they would administer to bring the flagging economy back to a strong position.

Capping business rates, boosting exports and investing in infrastructure, apprenticeships and small-medium enterprises were just some of the wishes made by leading business men and women when asked what they would like to see in the statement.

But many expect the Chancellor to report a modest and gradual recovery as the Government continues its course of tough austerity measures. In anticipation of the autumn statement what do our business leaders predict?

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: : Paul Winter, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Institute of Directors:

“The impact of continuing nil growth in the economy is something the Chancellor needs to address in his Autumn Statement. We need significant infrastructure investment particularly in the East in transport.

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Opening up Suffolk will enable the private sector to grow. Whilst unemployment remains surprisingly low the number of young people without work is worrying. A National Insurance holiday for firms who take on additional staff under 25 could have the effect of both reducing the benefits bill and generating growth. I would also like to see the Government live up to its promises on reducing red tape and also in slavishly following EU directives. The housing market is still stagnant; action on stamp duty is essential to help get it moving again, not just for first time buyers but much further up the market.

Further cuts in Corporation Tax particularly for smaller businesses would aid growth and needn’t be a significant cost to the Exchequer.

The low interest environment has hit those who rely on income form savings. The Chancellor needs to increase the cash ISA allowance and allow transfers between equity and cash ISAs.

: : Denise Rossiter, chief executive at Essex Chambers of Commerce:

“Essex Chambers of Commerce recognise that the Government has had to take some difficult decisions in tackling its debt and reducing spending.

“However, Essex is one of the few net contributors to the UK economy and we would like to see more of the taxes our businesses and taxpayers generate returned to the county.

“We believe that there is much that could be done to improve our road networks and in particular improving access to our ports and airports. This would help not just local businesses but also our exporters who are essential in helping achieve the Government’s targets for economic growth.

“We would also like to see more support given to businesses who are either existing exporters, or are thinking of doing so, in identifying new opportunities overseas.

“Our members also tell us that there is still too much burdensome regulation so we would like to see the Government speed up its culling of unecessary rules.

“Planning is still causing many problems with applications taking far too long to process. Our message therefore is that the Government nees to not just talk about helping businesses succeed but do something about it.

: : Simon Gray, chief executive officer of EEEGR:

“The region’s energy sector wants to see clarity of thinking and clear and unambiguous strategies for the future. The lack of clarity on policy on energy issues has left many in the industry uncertain of the coalition’s strategy.

“While we all want cheap energy we have to balance this with the commitments we have already made for a lower-carbon future and security of supply.

“Some industries are saying that the UK will become uneconomic in many areas of manufacturing if energy costs continue to rise within the constraints we have set ourselves for a reduction in our carbon emissions and a balanced view must be taken.

“One thing is for sure – whatever the outcome one part or another of the electorate and the energy sector will not be satisfied.

“We still have massive and comparatively cheap gas reserves and our colleagues in this sector in the east of England have nearly 50 years of experience in harnessing this to the benefit of the local, regional and national economy.

“Many jobs now and in the future rely upon this sector and they are actively seeking to employ more and develop skills to enable our region to compete on the international market against other cheap imports of gas through interconnectors to foreign markets but we need to consider the security implication of relying upon gas from regions outside of our control or influence.

“EEEGR is doing its part in developing the supply chain in this sector and assisting in developing the next generation of skilled workers for the offshore gas platforms off our coast and the land based support services required to keep them functioning.

“It will be interesting to see if the chancellor makes any further tax concessions to further stimulate more investment in the offshore oil and gas sector following the tax breaks announced in September this year which stimulated new investment in a number of brown filed sites and new sites such as the Cygnus field just to the north east of the Norfolk coast.”

: : Chris Soule, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Federation of Small Businesses:

“We believe ‘thinking small first’ should be a crucial aspect of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

“Big business, and the organisations which go with it such as the CBI have their place, but with the Government looking to small businesses to help grow the economy, it is time for the focus to be on our needs and for government to listen to what we have to say.

“The patchwork approach to small business policy needs to change, and we advocate a UK Small Business Administration to anchor and deliver policy, especially around finance.

“Small firms often demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit, and offer a pathway to employment for the unemployed and inactive – around nine in 10 of the unemployed will find a job in a SME – and there needs to be a fundamental debate about employment policy, to avoid developing policies and then thinking of exemptions for small businesses.

“The ‘think big first’ approach is not working.

“There have been voices recently suggesting small firms are not asking for finance, but for many their confidence in accessing finance has been shattered.

“The Chancellor needs to build a financial environment which fills the small business funding gap and encourages a more diverse market in credit provision to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

“Members believe the creation of a small business bank is the way forward, and anticipate hearing more from the Chancellor on how this will work, and when it will be operating.

“A lack of confidence in the economy is hampering the high street, local business investment and the prospect for employment for many.

“Investment in infrastructure is crucial to improve this confidence. Action on fuel duty, cancelling the 3p rise pencilled in for January, would give a welcome boost to the confidence of small businesses in the government.

“Finally, we ask that the Chancellor improves taxation, simplifying the system for the smallest businesses.

“This would bring the two-fold benefit of increased compliance and deregulation on a major scale. In addition we seek an enhanced National Insurance Contributions (NICs) holiday for small firms, which would increase employment by 45,000 jobs

: : Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership:

“We are keen to see the Chancellor announce measures that will stimulate growth in the economy and create sustainable jobs.

“That should include a commitment to further investment in infrastructure including broadband and transport to get the economy moving.

“From the LEP perspective we would welcome increased funding for our Growing Places Fund, which is helping kick-start stalled infrastructure projects, and for our Regional Growth Fund project which will be providing finance to enable SMEs to expand.”

: : John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber:

“We have supported the Government’s drive for deficit reduction and we still do.

“However, we have been calling for some months for the Chancellor to adopt ‘Plan A+’, driving down public spending but utilising more of the money the Chancellor has to stimulate and nurture economic growth.”

“There are a lot of measures the Chancellor could undertake but clearly the key thing for him to do is implement enough of them to build confidence that the Government is listening and responding to the growing call for greater economic stimulus”.

“Suffolk Chamber would like the Chancellor to consider a range of measures including more support for exporters, introducing a new “unblocking fund” for stalled developments and a capital allowance scheme to incentivise businesses to commit to major capital investments.

It would also like Government to look at incentivising private-sector investment in public infrastructure, and pushing though the British Business Bank initiative that the chamber network has been seeking for the last 12 months.

“Lord Heseltine provided the Government with a very strong agenda for economic growth in his recent report.

“We need to see the Chancellor responding strongly in favour of nurturing enterprise and jobs.

“Businesses in this county can lead the way to recovery but we need the Government to provide the right business climate and quickly”.

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