Budget was a mixed bag for businesses
In some ways Bath is a victim of its own success. We have a number of successful companies, two great Universities and possess a global brand that is a magnet for visitors. You can understand why the Chancellor concentrated his financial firepower on the north of England, which has very successfully made its case for help under the “Levelling Up” agenda.
That’s why a very long list of individual projects and schemes were dominated by northern constituencies and the devolved nations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. But we have pockets of real deprivation, too many people with low or no skills, shocking disparities in health and a transport infrastructure that needs substantial investment.
It is essential that this story is effectively told in Whitehall and the Chamber of Commerce and Initiative, as part of Business West, will be ready to play our part in supporting local politicians get that message over and so get a larger share of the levelling up cake.
The Budget announcements included a welcome £540 million in transport investment for the West of England. However, most of this money was just a re-announcement from the 2019 Transforming Cities Fund, which included the A4 corridor improvements between Bath and Bristol. Even then it’s small beer compared with the likes of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands which received a billion pounds each, whilst West Yorkshire got £830 million.
The Chancellor made no reference as to how or whether the Government would support businesses if restrictions get re-imposed on public health grounds going into the winter. And many businesses remain vulnerable, with depleted cash reserves whilst at the same time trying to pay off Covid incurred debt such as bounce back loans, extended overdrafts and heavily stretched credit cards.
The Chancellor’s greater focus on Further Education and post 16 skills is welcome and we know that Bath College is capable of producing much needed skilled workers if they are given the funding to do it.
The Retail, Hospitality and Leisure sector will welcome the temporary 50% reduction in business rates and the changes to alcohol rates may be helpful. But staff shortages and other rising prices will continue to provide a challenge with supply chain and labour market inflation and additional business tax burdens such as National Insurance and Corporation tax.
For all businesses with physical premises, the system of Business Rates acts as a real drag on our high streets and with the rise of on line shopping they are now an out of date concept, in need of radical change. Unfortunately, the business rates announcements were all temporary measures and there were no fundamental reforms. It’s to be hoped this is a priority area for levelling up which the Chancellor will get to grips with before much longer.