There will be two budgets this year, one tomorrow and a second in the Autumn, after which there will only be Autumn budgets.
The signs are that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, will be cautious. He has already said publicly that he wants to reserve some funds for the Government to use as a fall back to protect the economy after the completion of Brexit negotiations.
Leaving aside the pressing financial concerns about the future of the NHS, social care, education and welfare support, all of which are likely to be disappointed if hoping for extra cash, the Chancellor has already also indicated that there will be no easing of the austerity measures intended to reduce the Budget deficit.
Given all this the question is whether there will be any relief or even help for hard-pressed businesses, particularly SMEs, navigating uncertain times while they try to keep their companies surviving and thriving?
What would businesses like to see in the Spring Budget?
The issue raising the most concern has been the revision of business rates, due to come into force in April. Virtually every national body representing business has commented on this.
In some parts of the country small businesses will have benefited from the higher threshold for exemption but in difficult trading conditions, especially for small retailers, those whose rates have been increased will want to see some help beyond the phasing-in period that currently exists.
Following its annual conference on February 28th, reform of business rates is top of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) wish list. It would like to see the switch in how rates are adjusted for inflation from RPI (Retail Price Index) to CPI (Consumer Price Index) brought forward from 2020 to April 2017 and plant and machinery removed from property valuation.
The FSB (Federation of Small Business), too, has highlighted the business rates issue. Called by its national chairman, Mike Cherry, “The broken Business Rates system ..” he wants the Government to recognise the need for a “sensible, fair system for the 21st Century”.
In addition to a rethink on business rates, the Institute of Directors (IoD) wants to see all types of businesses recognised and a more level playing field created to allow for fair treatment of High Street and online business as well as a loosening of restrictions on the rules for various enterprise schemes from which SMEs can source investment funds.
For EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, measures to boost productivity and pressing ahead with promised infrastructure improvements are high priorities. Enabling higher investment in R & D, skills development and manufacturing investment are a must, although it too mentions the need for reform of business rates.
For the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) it is all about ensuring stability for businesses during the process of exiting the EU. Its pre-budget letter urged the Government to ensure that it does not add to the “mounting burden of costs facing firms for just doing business”.
We shall report on the outcome and its impact on business shortly after the budget.