Business leaders from across Birmingham and the West Midlands have broadly welcomed the measures outlined in the Chancellor’s 2021 Budget.
There were several business boosts for the region with areas such as Rowley Regis, Smethwick and West Bromwich among those to receive cash from the Towns Fund to support regeneration while East Midlands Airport is one of eight new freeports.
A £50 million grant has also been handed to borough leaders in Solihull to support development of a multi-storey car park next to the HS2 Interchange station near the airport.
Key figures from the region’s business community tell us how they saw the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement.
Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce said several calls from its ‘Back Our Businesses’ campaign were answered including extensions to furlough and self-employed schemes until September.
But chief executive Paul Faulkner said Mr Sunak could have gone further to help the hardest-hit firms, particularly those involved in supply chains, the aviation industry and directors of limited companies.
“The importance of infrastructure investment was also at front and centre of the announcements and, while there was much fanfare around free ports, green investment bonds and a new National Infrastructure Bank, details around support for Birmingham Airport and the wider aviation industry was sadly lacking,” he said.
“Closer to home, it was brilliant to see that Solihull has secured significant investment to press ahead with infrastructure including multi-story car parking for the HS2 Interchange station.”
Tim Pile, chairman of regional business body Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, welcomed the Budget.
“Intelligence gathered from our partners shows many small firms have relied on furlough payments and VAT cuts in order to survive the pandemic,” he said.
“The extension to the furlough scheme, continuation in cuts to VAT and a freeze on business rates throws a lifeline to those affected.
“It will help many businesses with whom we have been working to enable their recovery and especially those in the hospitality and creative sectors who have been severely impacted. At the same time, we know many SMEs are burdened with debt.”
Although the West Midlands missed out on having a new freeport, the decision to house one at East Midlands Airport will no doubt have a positive domino effect across the whole of the region.
Sir John Peace, chairman of the Midlands Engine, praised the fact the Chancellor’s statement and said it recognised the huge potential for economic growth represented by the new freeports.
“They will be transformational catalysts for widespread changes and a key component of levelling up the Midlands,” he said.
“They will play a crucial role in driving up economic potential, rapidly accelerating existing initiatives, tackling skills and productivity gaps, increasing investment and delivering long term growth in our region.
“Most significantly, the freeports at East Midlands Airport will further enhance the central role of the Midlands Engine as a global gateway for the UK.”
Mike Cherry is director of Staffordshire timber merchant WH Mason & Son and national chairman of trade body the Federation of Small Businesses.
He said the Budget would help many small firms with their final push through to September but there was little in there to aid job creation or help people return to work.
“Ensuring the newly self-employed can now access support marks a big step forward but directors, who appear to have been left out yet again, will be incredibly disappointed,” he said.
“Thousands of small businesses are on the brink of collapse and thousands more are suffering from low confidence as cash reserves dwindle.
“While the furlough extension is much-needed, small employers are still struggling due to high national insurance contributions and the removal of the job retention bonus. The Government should look again at these areas.”
Louise Bennett, chief executive of Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, called it “a very upbeat speech” considering the health and economic crisis the UK had faced over the past year.
“As ever, some of the announcements had already emerged but we certainly welcome the extension to furlough, the new restart grants and many of those policies designed to help support cashflow for those still struggling,” she said.
“Investment from both the Government and businesses is going to play a huge role in getting our economy moving again once we start to open up so it was very welcome to hear the new ‘super-deduction’ on business investment and also plans for a levelling up fund.”
Jon Leedham, Birmingham managing partner for commercial property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield, said: “The Chancellor’s pledge for an ‘investment-led’ recovery will be welcome news to the business community.
“The announcement that one of the eight new freeports will be at East Midlands Airport will be a significant boost to inward investment, business growth and job creation.
“The Midlands region has a rich heritage of innovation and, with a freeport, we can use these strengths to secure major employment and investment opportunities.
“The extension to business rates relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors is positive news although many sectors have been left unsupported and paying full rates throughout the pandemic.”
Mark Booth, managing director of Solihull-based housebuilder Hayfield, said it was pleasing to hear that properties under £500,000 would continue to be exempt from stamp duty until the end of June.
He added: “So many property transactions have experienced unforeseen delays due to the pandemic so this is very welcome news and will alleviate the stress so many have been experiencing.
“The introduction of government guarantees for lenders which offer 95 per cent mortgage products to those buying a home under £600,000 will be a big financial help to lots of people who are looking to move onto or up the property ladder.”
The head of historic Birmingham pressings firm Brandauer Rowan Crozier said: “I think going too early on increasing corporation tax was dangerous so am pleased the Chancellor has delayed it until 2023.
“An increase when most businesses are still struggling would have been short sighted and hikes could have stalled recovery and, importantly, overseas investors.
“We all know the covid bill has to be recovered but I would prefer to see a longer-term strategy to paying it back and maybe a more targeted approach to internet giants which are flying as a result of the pandemic.”
“We’re pleased to hear the Government is going to consult on R&D tax credit. Simplifying the system and including capital equipment spending would be a massive win for industry.”
Karl Edge, Midlands regional chairman and Birmingham office senior partner at financial services firm KPMG, said: “Today’s announcements will give the West Midlands a much-needed boost, alongside further support measures for businesses and individuals as the Chancellor rightly focused on recovery.
“In recent years, we’ve seen the Government make promises to rebalance regional economies and it’s encouraging to see these becoming a reality through investment and collaboration with local government.
“Given the upward trajectory the region was on pre-covid-19, the £59 million investment in reopening local rail stations, £155 million support for seven local towns and the £50 million plans in Solihull will drive growth, job creation and inward investment.”
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Andy Foote, director at Birmingham property developer SevenCapital, called it a “positive Budget”.
“The extension of the stamp duty holiday as it is until June and the lesser-anticipated extension of a holiday on properties up to the value of £250,000 will go a long way in avoiding a collapse in transactions as previously feared,” he said.
“Given the average UK house price sits at around £252,000 overall, and with properties in the Midlands individually sitting at a lower average, this effectively means the average buyer can continue with new purchases through to September.
“Will this mean simply delaying a stall in market activity? We will see, however in the short term, considering the significantly higher level of transactions the industry is currently fighting to complete, this is good news.”
The boss of one of the Midlands’ largest training companies has welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget boost for skills and employment.
BCTG managing director Chris Luty said: “We welcome the extension of the furlough scheme as this will help avoid the predicted unemployment cliff edge.
“The increase in the Incentives available for employers to recruit new apprentices to £3,000 is very welcome, particularly the increase for those aged 25 plus.
“We recognise that much has been put in place for the under 25s but apprenticeships are just as relevant for adults to reskill as over 60 per cent currently are aged 25 or above.”
Dave Hillan, head of Grant Thornton in the Midlands, said: “The message of this Budget was clear – business is being served a spoon full of sugar today, with the medicine to follow tomorrow.
“Pushing the well-trailed rise in corporation tax to 2023 may make it a little easier swallow but it’s still a large relative increase and a potential threat to investment in the long term, particularly as the UK looks to become a hub for multi-national businesses post-Brexit.
“Mid-market business leaders in the Midlands have called for more incentives for growth, making the new super deduction of 130 per cent on capital expenditure welcome news, particularly for our region’s manufacturing base.”
Ben Leather, managing director of Midlands-based Spitfire Homes, said: “We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement to extend the stamp duty holiday in phases to the end of September.
“The move will deliver an important confidence boost to the market, providing further stability over the coming months.
“Following its introduction in July 2020, the incentive has acted as a catalyst for the housing market, resulting in a nationwide surge of activity.
“Today’s announcement will add further comfort for those in the process of buying a home, helping to avoid a hard deadline of the end of March, which would have resulted in buyers having to source up to an additional £15,000 to cover the cost of stamp duty or put their purchase at risk.”
Sarah Philips, Midlands consumer markets leader at financial services firm PwC, said: “While much of the Budget had been widely trailed, the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors should be heartened by the tangible measures targeted particularly at smaller businesses that are the lifeblood of our high streets.
“With the retail and leisure companies accounting for over half of the just under five million people still on furlough, the extension of the scheme until September will be a relief.”