Autumn Statement: Small and rural firms ‘left out in the cold’

A tractor ploughing near Brampton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A tractor ploughing near Brampton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Small firms and rural businesses feel they have been 'left out in the cold' by the chancellor's urban growth agenda.

Mr Hammond's statement included a pledge to increase Rural Rate Relief to 100pc, which he said would give small businesses in the countryside a tax break worth up to £2,900 per year.

But business groups in East Anglia said such measures were not enough to overcome city-focused policies on transport, housing and digital connectivity.

Ben Underwood, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said: 'It is hard to see from this statement how rural business fits in to the chancellors' vision for Britain's economic future. The investments announced today are overwhelmingly targeted at improving facilities within, and connections between, our cities. We understand why this is important, but it must not be done at the expense of opportunities to support the rural economy and build the homes we need to sustain our rural communities.'

Salena Dawson, regional chairman for the Federation of Small Business in East Anglia, said funds for fibre broadband upgrades and 5G mobile internet trials would bring little comfort for rural businesses still struggling to get minimum connection speeds.


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She said: 'It is a great idea, but if we cannot get 3G or 4G in this area, what is the point of aiming to get 5G?'

Robin Johnson, who owns TaxAssist Accountants in Norwich, said: 'Small business was left completely out in the cold in the chancellor's statement. Hard working small business owners were given absolutely no recognition of the major contribution they make to the UK economy.

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'Small businesses are already facing huge challenges from compulsory contributions to staff pension pots, the National Living Wage, changes to the way dividends are taxed and onerous business rates and there was no respite from the Chancellor. In fact the further increase in the National Living Wage announced today – from £7.20 to £7.50 an hour from April – could deter recruitment decisions and slow down growth.

'The £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund and further £1.4bn for affordable homes is a welcome contribution to local economies, with many small businesses such as plumbers, electricians and decorators as well as those in construction reaping benefits.

'But we would have liked to see more concrete measures to encourage small business growth, such as an increase in Employment Allowance, or the return of the Small Companies' rate for corporation tax.'

Nationally, the Federation of Small Businesses welcomed plans to reduce business rates, and increase investment in roads, research and digital connectivity to help rebalance the UK economy.

'But there will need to be stronger fiscal interventions to boost the economy next year, with the prospect of weaker longer-term growth looming,' said chairman Mike Cherry.

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