“Hugely challenging time” for businesses says LEP Chair
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a raft of measures in today’s Autumn Statement, saying his priorities were stability, growth and public spending.
Mandy Thorn MBE, chair of the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership, said the combination of tax rises and spending cuts in the Autumn Statement came as no surprise – but would create a hugely challenging environment for the business community.
She said plans to tackle inflation, reduce borrowing and rebalance the nation’s finances were welcome after the impact of the previous Government’s fiscal statement earlier in the year.
But she called for urgent action to review business rates to allow companies to draw up the long-term investment plans on which growth would depend, and said the LEP would be watching closely moves to focus Investment Zones on universities to ensure the Marches was not left out.
The LEP brings together the business community, the public sector and academia to drive economic growth across Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, and has invested £196million in the region over the last decade.
Its business support service – the Marches Growth Hub – supported more than 15,000 businesses across the region in the 2021/22 financial year and helped more than 800 people start a new business.
“The Chancellor was in an almost impossible situation and his Autumn Statement today certainly reflected that,” Mandy said.
“I very much hope this package brings the stability we need and welcome the move to confirm that we are keeping to our target to cut emissions by 68 per cent over the next seven years and the focus on energy efficiency and independence.
“This very much reflects our own priorities, with the upcoming launch of the Marches Energy Grant specifically designed to help companies reduce their own energy costs and emissions. This forms part of our £4million Marches Energy Fund programme to help safeguard the region’s energy security.
“But we need to hear more about what help the Government plans to give businesses with energy costs when the current scheme ends in April.
“And while Mr Hunt’s move to ensure two thirds of businesses will not face an increase in their business rates when they are revalued next year is clearly welcome, much greater action here is needed.
“Business rates have not been fit for purpose for some time and Mr Hunt must urgently instigate a thorough review of them if business is to be given the confidence to make strategic investment decisions for the future.
“Without that confidence and the subsequent investment, it is difficult to see how the foundations for sustained and sustainable growth can be laid.”