East Anglian business leaders share their Budget 2017 wish list

Philip Hammond will announce his first Budget tomorrow (Wednesday). Picture: Hannah McKay/PA Wire

Philip Hammond will announce his first Budget tomorrow (Wednesday). Picture: Hannah McKay/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Ahead of the Budget, we asked industry leaders in East Anglia what they hoped to hear in the chancellor's speech.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership managing director Chris Starkie.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership managing director Chris Starkie. - Credit: Archant

A potential climb-down on business rates and action to tackle the UK's productivity are on East Anglian business leaders' wish lists for the chancellor's final Spring Budget today.

As Philip Hammond prepares to set out his plans for the economy, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Norfolk and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce have shared their hopes for subjects to be addressed.

Suspected announcements include investment in science and technology, academic and vocational education, and national infrastructure projects, as well as additional support for companies stung by the business rates revaluation.

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

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For LEP managing director Chris Starkie, productivity is expected to be the day's major talking point.

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He said: 'We anticipate that this week's budget announcement will include an update on the government's plans to drive productivity.

Tim Robinson, the first chief operating oficer for TechEast. Picture: SENT IN BY TECHEAST

Tim Robinson, the first chief operating oficer for TechEast. Picture: SENT IN BY TECHEAST - Credit: SENT IN BY TECHEAST

'We hope to hear more about the national productivity investment fund, announced in the autumn, and tangible, positive news for businesses, whether this is through improved access to technology or investment in research and development (R&D).

'Skills, including the role they play in narrowing the productivity gap, are also likely to be a key topic. With the Apprenticeship Levy being introduced in April, this is an area which we know businesses are keen to hear more about.

'We expect a focus on the development of technical training routes for 16 to 19 year olds which better suit the needs of businesses and are aligned with the industrial strategy.'

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Norfolk and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce have called for Mr Hammond to take urgent action on the controversial business rates revaluation, to protect the counties' businesses. It comes as figures from the British Chambers of Commerce's quarterly economic review show 39% of businesses are more concerned about rates than they were three months ago. Only exchange rates provoked more worry among participants.

Pete Waters of Visit East Anglia. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Pete Waters of Visit East Anglia. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber, said the organisation would call on the chancellor to 'take urgent action' in the Budget.

She said: 'The UK had the highest business property taxes in the developed world even before the recent revaluation – hammering firms in our region with sky-high costs before they turn over a single pound. This undermines business investment, which fell for the first time in seven years in 2016.'

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said action was needed 'to reduce the upfront cost of doing business'.

NFU East Anglia regional director Robert Sheasby

NFU East Anglia regional director Robert Sheasby - Credit: NFU

Technology – Tim Robinson, TechEast chief operating officer

With an overall focus on how to 'Brexit-proof' Britain after leaving the European Union, the chancellor is expected to announce more than £300m to fund 1,000 PhD places in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM) subjects, including fellowships and researchers.

The SNS 2016 Offshore Energy conference at the Norfolk Showground. Simon Gray, chief executive EEEGR

The SNS 2016 Offshore Energy conference at the Norfolk Showground. Simon Gray, chief executive EEEGR. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

This is particularly welcome in the East of England to support our world leading universities and research led institutions including those at Norwich Research Park, Cambridge Science Parks and Adastral Park.

A further £500m is expected from the national productivity investment fund to support areas including artificial intelligence and electric vehicles both of which are active specialisms in the East, and should bring new jobs and investment to the region.

The challenge is to ensure that this government investment has a real impact across the digital tech community, both nationally and in the East of England, delivering benefits at a local level, especially to SMEs.

Tourism – Pete Waters, Visit East Anglia executive director

A reduction in VAT for tourism, as they do in countries such as Germany and France, would be of huge benefit to increasing the visitor economy. The nature of tourism means that growth, in terms of employment, value and volume, can be quickly achieved and this interregnum between referendum and Brexit itself has already provided us with a great opportunity to attract both domestic and overseas visitors.

We also need government to ensure that migration from the EU continues, not just high net worth roles in the City but, for us, employment in hotels and catering in particular. We have to appreciate how much we rely on migration for agriculture and hospitality in this region.

Agriculture – Robert Sheasby, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU)

The last Budget before Article 50 is triggered is a crucial opportunity to put a framework in place that helps achieve a profitable, competitive and productive agricultural industry after Brexit.

A successful industry needs innovation and investment. A good start for the chancellor would be to review and reform the capital allowances system. A reformed system should provide incentives for farmers to invest in equipment and modern buildings.

We have world-leading centres of R&D in our region. They need continued direct government support to ensure British agriculture is competitive on the world stage. The Chancellor should also offer tax incentives to encourage businesses to invest in this vital area.

Energy – Simon Gray, East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) chief executive

For oil & gas, we would like to see gas decoupled from oil in its fiscal treatment to stimulate the southern North Sea gas basin to maximise economic recovery (MER); the scope of the investment allowance extended to a wider range or productive expenditure to benefit the integrity and longevity of North Sea assets, or improve the ultimate recovery of gas; and ministerial dialogue to improve access to finance for the oil and gas supply chain for both their UK and international businesses.

For offshore wind we would like clarity and stability while borrowing is cheap by a greater volume and scale of Contracts for Difference awards. This would stimulate more investment and a pipeline of work for the growing supply chain.

For nuclear, also taking advantage of low cost borrowing, we would like a requirement for investment with a direct government stake in significant low carbon infrastructure to attract investment to stimulate growth in areas we need to upgrade, including Sizewell C and Bradwell B.

Personal finance – Clare Goodswen, partner and chartered tax accountant at M&A Partners

The chancellor is rumoured to be creating a 'war chest' to protect the economy from the fall out of Brexit in 2019 and beyond. His plan is to set aside as much as £60bn to provide a cushion for the economy.

The question is how to do this without further damaging the UK economy now and without frightening away potential investors in the UK. The answer is most likely to be more cuts to government departments' budgets, cuts in the welfare and pension's budget and tax rises for the self employed.

The good news is that the level of the tax receipts in January were much higher than was expected and the predictions of government borrowing from November have been revised downwards so that the government borrowing is projected to be £45bn less by 2020.

The rest of the money for the Brexit piggy bank is likely to come from cuts to the £38bn annual cost of tax relief on pension contributions which is the most costly tax relief to the government after the personal allowance.

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