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Autumn Budget comments roundup

“There’s no doubt that office-to-residential conversions have had a positive impact on the number of new homes being built so any simplification of this process is to be welcomed. Empty commercial deadwood is helping to regenerate local neighbourhoods around the UK and it’s a trend that needs to continue.”

A selection of comments from across the HR sector and beyond. Contributors Various. Mark Dyason, Managing Director, Thistle Finance, comments: “There’s no doubt that office-to-residential conversions have had a positive impact on the number of new homes being built so any simplification of this process is to be welcomed. Empty commercial deadwood is helping to regenerate local neighbourhoods around the UK and it’s a trend that needs to continue. Coupled with the additional £500m set aside for the Housing Infrastructure Fund, the right noises are emerging from this Government.”

“The question, as ever, is whether the Government will simply talk the talk or actually walk the walk. Over the years plenty of initiatives to get Britain building have been proclaimed with great fanfare and not one has made a material impact on the number of new homes being built. The problem is the revolving door at the housing ministry spins faster than any other government department.

“There’s zero consistency, often zero ministerial understanding of the property market itself and, to top it all off, never enough time to stick to a coherent game plan. What many in the property industry would like to see for the benefit of new build is a cross-party working group with a remit that extends beyond the parliamentary cycle and individual budgets.”

Ian Brinkley, acting chief economist for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said on the apprenticeship levy: “Investments in physical and digital infrastructure are welcome but the battle for UK productivity will be won or lost in the workplace. The skills agenda is central to this and we need to see much greater ambition from the Government.

It’s promising to see that the Government has halved the apprenticeship levy contribution for smaller businesses but this is unlikely to greatly boost the number of apprenticeships offered by small firms, many of which lack the capacity to take on apprentices. The levy is still far too rigid to work in practice for many employers. We need a more flexible training levy that can help organisations fulfil a number of training and development needs rather than shoe-horning funds and efforts into the apprenticeships model alone.

It’s vital that the Government continues to review the operation of the levy to ensure it delivers the right results for all businesses and individuals, and that it can meaningfully help address the UK’s productivity challenge. The other big issue on skills is the need to provide small businesses with much more locally provided support on developing people management capability to boost both job quality and firm performance.

On IR35: Ian Brinkley said: “It is disappointing the Chancellor has decided to push ahead with extending the IR 35 tax reforms from the public sector to the private sector as this will result in significant additional red tape for employers and runs contrary to his stated intention of boosting enterprise in the UK. However, we are pleased that the government has taken on board the need to phase in these changes from April 2020. What is also crucial in the run-up to implementation of this tax reform will be the provision of good quality advice and guidance for employers from HMRC, with nine out of ten HR and payroll practitioners surveyed by CIPD saying they would need significant support to correctly determine employment status if these changes are introduced.”

Mark Tighe, CEO of Catax:  specialist advisors in capital allowances, R&D tax credits and the Patent Box, commented: While the Chancellor repeated his commitment to making the UK a world leader in enterprise and innovation, it was disappointing he did not give this more of a focus in his speech, leaving out the detail on plans to support science and productivity to be looked up in the Budget Red Book.

He announced a PAYE restriction on SME R&D tax relief which though designed to prevent abuse of the system sends out a negative message to SMEs that wish to innovate and benefit from the tax relief. This anti-avoidance rule will impact genuine claims made by technology start-ups where their payroll costs are low.

There is already a widespread lack of understanding about what constitutes R&D and who is eligible for this tax relief which was designed to boost innovation across all sectors. We were hoping to see R&D tax relief receive a further boost rather than increased restrictions. At the very least the government must address the confusion over exactly who can and cannot claim for R&D if it is to see the virtuous cycle in which R&D tax credits reinvested in further R&D spread across more sectors. There was good news for innovative companies generally, with £1.6bn funding for certain technologies such as AI, nuclear fusion and quantum computing announced, and increasing the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund by £1.1bn. There will be further funding to support fellowships for technology based programmes and to support Catapult Centres.

The Chancellor did announce some positive changes to boost innovation including the increase in annual investment allowance from £200,000 to £1million for two years. This includes a tax relief for IP rich businesses so will stimulate general business investment but also reward the businesses that innovate most to create new products and services. Additional relief on ‘non-residential structures’ should provide further encouragement for businesses to invest in bricks and mortar, machinery, equipment and more but this was offset by a reduction in the Capital Allowance Special Rate Pool from 8 percent to 6 percent.

Jamie True, Chief Digital Officer, LifeWorks, by Morneau Shepell: A £2 billion cash injection to the NHS to assist Mental Health Services will help support those who need it in times of crisis. But it also puts responsibility for providing support services for mental health squarely on the shoulders of the NHS, a service already stretched, under resourced and drained financially. Employers have a duty of care to support the total well-being of their people and this means providing access to tools that enable employees to proactively maintain their mental, physical, social and financial wellness.

Current services for mental health are still largely treatment-focused, which means it is only those who are aware and willing to ask for help that are receiving support.

Research from Mind has found that work is the most stressful factor in people’s lives with one in three people (34 percent) saying their work life was either very or quite stressful, more so than debt or financial problems (30 percent) or health (17 percent). This is a clear indication that some responsibility for the mental health of the workforce sits with the employer, and businesses not providing support for their workers should be held to account.

For many, poor mental health is the result of a combination of personal and work stresses. This could be financial worries, poor physical health or a lack of social interaction. Businesses can adopt solutions which can help support and ultimately prevent employees from developing mental health problems.

Thankfully, we have seen seismic shifts in attitudes towards mental health and how it is perceived in the  workplace. The next step is for organisations to take responsibility for their employees’ total well-being by providing a comprehensive wellness program, which will  support people as they navigate through the daily stresses they encounter. In the UK about 70 percent of calls to the LifeWorks EAP counselling service are related to mental health issues. Having this confidential service available through a mobile app at work takes away some of the barriers such as going to the Doctors and has helped those who may not have ever reached out for support otherwise. We’ve evolved our understanding and perception of mental health over the years, that much is certain. Now is the time to evolve the support system to meet demand.

Following the announcement in today’s Budget that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has pledged to ensure that funding for mental health services will grow as a share of the overall NHS budget over the next five years, Michael Johnson-Ellis, Managing Director of Healthier Recruitment, has expressed concerns that cash alone will not guarantee better patient outcomes.

The extra boost – which has been promised as part of a wider £20 billion a year package for the NHS to mark the health service’s 70th birthday – is designed to deliver ‘parity of care’ between physical and mental health. This will be achieved, in part, through up to £250 million investment a year by 2023-24 into new ‘crisis services’ within A&E departments, schools, ‘safe havens’ in the community and through NHS 111.

Michael Johnson-Ellis, who has over 15 years’ experience in NHS recruitment, commenting on the pledge to boost mental health funding: “We applaud The Chancellor’s decision to inject extra funds into mental health crisis services, an area which hasn’t received its fair share of funding increases over the past five years. However, cash alone will not guarantee better patient outcomes: it is absolutely vital that any additional resources are directed in the most efficient way.

“In our extensive work with mental health trusts we have found that, from a staffing perspective, some wards are not managed in the most effective way. For example, overreliance on agency workers can impact both continuity of care and staffing spend. This, in turn, makes the environment more chaotic and the workplace less attractive for substantive staff, which further exacerbates the problem. In this instance, extra funding will not address the core issues.

“We also have questions around where the talent will come from in order to provide enhanced services across all the settings the Chancellor has outlined. Official figures show that the number of mental health nurses registered in the UK has dropped 12% in the last decade, while one in five current NHS nursing vacancies are for mental health specialists. In the long-term, we must pipeline specialist talent to be able to deliver the level of service that Philip Hammond has promised, however, in the short term, trusts must manage existing workforces strategically to ensure they are firing on all cylinders.”

Stephen Roper is Professor of Enterprise at Warwick Business School and an expert in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) said: “The forecast of 1.5- 1.6 per cent growth per annum over the next few years suggests the UK’s productivity crisis is set to continue.

“However, the Chancellor did offer some positive news, particularly for small firms, including support for high street retailers, SME housebuilders, and exporters.

“Halving apprenticeship contributions for smaller firms and the announcement of £200m for the British Business Bank to compensate for the loss of finance from the European Investment Fund will be welcome news too.”

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