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Autumn Statement – what the experts are saying

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First comments on Chancellor's Autumn statement across the piece.

Fuel duty

Quentin Willson of FairFuelUK said: “Our intense lobbying, campaigning and empirical economic evidence that cutting duty is good for the whole economy has resonated with the Chancellor. We are grateful to him for the continuing freeze that’s lasted 5 years. But let’s not forget the UK motorist remains the highest levied tax contributor in Europe. He could have been more courageous for the economy's sake and cut it by 3p. Be warned, this is probably now a fiscal platform for him to increase duty in the April Budget.”

Howard Cox of FairFuelUK said: “Great news that duty is frozen for the 5th year in a row. But George Osborne should have been bolder and cut duty on all fuels. The CEBR evidence is indisputable. He has missed a proven and ideal opportunity to increase consumer spending that generates new jobs, more VAT, a boost to GDP and as a result more growth tax revenue. We still pay the highest prices in the western world at the pumps due to his punitive and unnecessary taxation levels on drivers. He did not even mention Fuel Duty,  so we can only assume that putting it up in the 2016 Budget is on the table. Our fight goes on for taxation sanity at the pumps.”

Small business rate relief scheme

Jim Duffy, CEO, Entrepreneurial Spark said, “The small business rate relief scheme being extended for another year is good news for start-ups, but I’d like to see the Chancellor go deeper and provide more tax breaks and support for entrepreneurs. We’d like to see more initiatives to help start-ups recruit, plus easier access to funding for high potential businesses.”

Ian Cass, Managing Director of the national small employer organisation The Forum of Private Business, has responded to today’s Autumn Statement from the Chancellor, George Osborne: “The Forum was pleasantly surprised by the budget. There were a number of positive aspects of the budget, most notably the 50% increase in infrastructure capital spend and the focus on skills, The continued deficit reduction was something that the Forum wanted to see continue at a similar rate. Small business rate relief for a further year is also welcome although giving 100% of business rates raised locally may starve the rest of English Authorities of resources as London has 30% of the country’s rateable land.

I am disappointed that the Forum’s views that HMRC should offer a wide variety of tax payment options for small businesses based on their needs rather than pushing them down the digital route. I am however relieved that the hourly level of the living wage has not been accelerated to avoid tax credit reductions. However the devil will be in the detail as tax avoidance schemes may lead to increased costs on small businesses and we do not yet know what the 17% of reduction in the budget department of Business Innovation and Skill will mean for Britain's 1.3 million employers. “

Apprenticeship levy

Petra Wilton, director of strategy and external affairs for the Chartered Management Institute, commented on the Chancellor’s plans for an apprenticeship levy. “If businesses want a skilled workforce then it’s only right that they pay for it. There may be some grumbling in boardrooms about this new levy but it’s time to rid ourselves of any apprenticeship snobbery about the quality of these new routes into professional careers. Take the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, for example. It’s been developed by employers for employers. Delivered by universities and business schools, it ensure apprentices receive the best of all worlds: a business degree, professional Chartered status and on-the-job training. “Businesses with an eye on the future must realise the value of the upskilling their managers. Poor leadership and management is the biggest cause of the UK’s productivity shortfall, according to the latest OECD Total Factor Productivity figures. High quality professional managers don’t come for free so it’s time for businesses to put their hands in their pockets and invest for the future.”

Reacting to the Spending review announcements, AELP CEO Stewart Segal says The Apprenticeship Levy will be set at the rate of 0.5% of payroll which will mean that the majority of large employers will be encouraged to increase their Apprenticeship programmes.  It will also apply to more businesses than we expected because the £3m benchmark means that employers with less than 150 employees could be included in the Levy.  We need to understand a lot more of the details but we have recommended that the rules around the Levy need to be very clear and simple if we are to see an effective implementation by April 2017.

We are pleased that the 16 to 19 non schools budget and the non-Apprenticeship budget for adults have been protected in cash terms although that does mean real terms cuts for the next five years as costs increase.   This will mean that budgets need to be prioritised towards key programmes such as Traineeships, English and maths and support for the unemployed.  We are also pleased that early support for the unemployed is important through JCP and that the new programme for the long term unemployed will be an integrated Work and Health Programme.  The new programme must recognise the important lessons learnt from the current programmes.  

Landlords and housing

Alex Gosling, CEO, online estate agents, comments: Another blow to landlords, so soon after the cut in mortgage interest tax relief. In the space of two announcements, George Osborne has become Enemy No1 for the buy-to-let sector. We are likely to see a stampede over the next year to purchase buy-to-let properties before the stamp duty hike comes into force. But the future is now decidedly uncertain for the UK's buy-to-let sector. It seems like the Government has forgotten, or just ignored the large number of amateur buy-to-let landlords who aren't looking to make vast fortunes, but are just looking to supplement their incomes. We are not talking about the professional landlords with multiple properties. We are talking about the pensioners, for example, who have invested in buy-to-let to boost their pensions, because low interest rates have decimated their savings income. Hopefully, this hasn't sounded the death knell for buy-to-let.”

Jonathan Hopper, managing director, buying agents Garrington Property Finders, comments: “The Chancellor's housing plans addressed the dire housing shortage we have in this country, but they focused on tomorrow's solution rather than fixing today's problems. The Government's housing policy can't just be about building more homes, it needs to address the here and now. And right now the housing market isn't moving. We need measures to stimulate the housing market today, to encourage people to move. It's disappointing that George Osborne failed to deliver any solutions to the current issues facing the housing market right now.”

Landlords are under attack again. It's Osborne's buy-to-let double whammy. The buy-to-let sector is only just recovering from the last Budget announcement cutting mortgage interest tax relief. Now, new buy-to-let landlords are going to get sledge-hammered with a bigger stamp duty tax bill. Why does Osborne have such a grudge against the buy-to-let sector? This is the sector that propped up the housing market during the hard times post credit crunch. How quickly the Government forgets. “With rents still rising and a lack of rental properties, deterring landlords from entering the market is surely only going to put more pressure on rents. Is Osborne trying to destroy the buy-to-let sector, because that's what it looks like. He's so focussed on home ownership, he's abandoning the millions of people who rent in this country.”

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