Business rate updates and the devolution of more regional powers are expected to be announced in the 25 November Autumn Statement announcement, building on the Northern Powerhouse flagship initiative launched by George Osborne in 2010.The business rates review, carried out earlier this year, promised a response by 2016 but there is no reason why SMEs and local councils should not expect an update on November 25. Clarification on the plans may help allay fears that some residential-dominated areas will struggle to supply basic local requirements and many are keen to confirm that a full business rates review will be carried out before reforms are made. The promise that there will be more help for the high street and a doubling of business rate relief for 500,000 of the UK’s smallest businesses are promises that should also not be allowed to slip under the radar. Many local businesses will also be wondering if any further regions will be granted the privileges that have, so far, only been awarded to Manchester. An update on the potential Chinese investment in the North will be welcomed by many, especially now all the hype surrounding the President’s visit is dying down. It will be interesting to see if the £40bn trade deals Cameron boasted about will be approached at all. Speaking of the North, it is likely that we will see the introduction of a devolution deal announced later in the month, which could include the announcement of the next round of cities to receive their own powers, along with details of local councils and their control over business rates. Future Costs Updates on how the UK is planning to cope with increasing global demands for energy efficiency and digital security will also be of interest. For SMEs this is particularly important as changes to either of the above will most likely result in additional costs, whether that be in the form of increased regulation, fines or the necessity to invest in future security. Small businesses feel the pinch in every area of their enterprise from the overhead costs of wages and rents, to utility prices and cyber security. This government needs to understand how their actions will affect the SMEs which make up 99 per cent of the UK business landscape. Are we rushing the budget surplus? With regards to the Spending Review, which has been scheduled for the same time, it is hoped that it will be less about cuts and austerity and more about growth and productivity. While the idea of a budget surplus by 2019 – 2020 sounds great in theory, this will not be preferred over a plan for sustainable growth and recovery. We all acknowledge the need to monitor government spending but this needs to be done with tact and informed rationality, not hacked at with a knife blunted by unfulfilled promises. There is obviously pressure on Osborne and the Conservatives to live up to election promises of debt reduction, but they are more likely to see success from a full and thorough re-evaluation of the current situation. Phil Foster is the MD of Love Energy Savings.
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