On Wednesday, December 3, the Chancellor will deliver his final Autumn Statement before next year’s May general election – and many are urging him to make announcements of new measures providing much-needed business support.
Improved accessibility to increase attractiveness of region
Marcus Plaw, planning director at LSH in Bristol and the South West, said: “The Autumn Statement provides the forum for the Government to present further detail on the £15 billion ‘roads revolution’ which will include significant, long awaited improvements to the A303.
“It will be interesting to hear of any anticipated development or growth benefits along this important transport corridor and how the planning system can be used to support these. The Local Enterprise Partnerships and business groups have been promoting the South West nationally and internationally. Improved accessibility will only increase the attractiveness of the region for investment.”
Action on occupational costs
Meanwhile, Pete Cole, director of lease advisory, called for action on occupational costs. He said: “Commercial rents are largely still static and in some sectors still falling, for example in secondary or market town retail and mid-range factory units away from the main commercial centres. These are the kinds of premises needed by local traders to revitalise the high streets, and by expanding, export-led, manufacturing concerns.
“Anything the Chancellor can do to lower occupational costs for business tenants like these, enabling higher business occupancy and stabilisation of rents, would be welcome. I would like to see him announce additional relief measures on business rates and on allowances for SMEs.”
Solid decisions on business rates
Business rates, worth around £25 billion a year to the Treasury, have been blamed for the demise of British high streets in recent years.
They are currently calculated through a valuation of commercial property and the annual rate of inflation, which is revalued every five years. The Government caused controversy in 2012 when it postponed a revaluation of business rates until 2017, instead of 2015.
Some businesses claim it is an unwanted financial burden at a time of economic strain and that it discourages investment.
Paul Stevens, director of rating, said: “We are in a state of limbo on rating and need some solid decisions from the Chancellor on the future rather than continued tinkering.
“Far from providing certainty, attempts by Government to amend the rating system have increased uncertainty and resulted in increased rates liabilities for some of those worst affected by the impact of changed economic circumstances.
“This state of limbo is unlikely to be resolved until the outcome of the election is known in May and whichever party / parties are in power make their intentions for business rates clear.
“In the meantime, ratepayers need to be proactive to ensure that their rate liabilities are managed to keep bills to a minimum. Complexities resulting from “stop-gap tinkering” with the system mean that the system is now needlessly complicated and opportunities can easily be missed.”
Housing at the forefront of the agenda
Jaime Blakely-Glover, director of public sector advisory services, said: “Housing needs to continue to be at the forefront of the agenda. Local authorities need to play a greater and greater role in this and be given the tools by central Government to do this.
“Flexibility in the HRA borrowing cap is needed where it can lead to the delivery of viable housing projects that provide much-needed new private and affordable housing. Local authorities need to play a key role in bringing forward key infrastructure and unlocking strategic sites – ultimately success will be a combination of working closely with developers, expanding on options such as Tax Increment Financing and Compulsory Purchase.”
He added: “Successful initiatives from abroad should be considered as options because the step change everyone hoped for has not happened over recent years. The LGA has published an interesting paper on this which the Government should take note of.
The HCA taking on £3.5 billion of central Government assets in 2015 is a significant opportunity to both increase the supply of land and raise important receipts for the public sector. It is therefore important that central Government provides a clear steer for the HCA to dispose of land in a way that maximises both these opportunities and continues to provide the funding to allow this to happen.”