Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce his Spring Budget on March 3 – the first one since before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Mr Sunak will lay out his economic plan in a statement to the House of Commons next week, following one of the most unprecedented years for UK businesses.
The Chancellor is expected to address issues including extensions to the furlough scheme and stamp duty holiday, as well as plans for tax changes and new measures to support businesses and the self-employed.
Ahead of Wednesday’s budget, we asked business leaders in the West Midlands what’s on their wish list.
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An extension to the furlough scheme until at least the end of July and further grant support are among new measures Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce is urging the Government to consider.
The business body is calling on the Government to ensure additional grant support is available for closed businesses with high overheads for which the current grant levels cannot pay the bills.
It also wants non-business rate payers and businesses without commercial premises to be able to access grant support and significantly impacted supply chain firms to receive support alongside those directly required to close and/or limit their activities.
Directors of limited companies, the recently self employed, charities currently excluded from support should also be helped.
The chamber is also urging Government to extend the furlough scheme to at least the end of July.
Chief strategy officer Henrietta Brealey said: “As a whole, the support brought forward by the Government to date has been extensive and made a substantial difference to businesses’ ability to survive this period.
“However, as the months stretch on, the gaps and shortcomings for key groups are becoming all the more pressing.
“Many businesses with larger premises, particularly those in the hospitality or live events sector in high rent areas, tell us that the current grant support available does not come close to covering their fixed costs.”
Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is also calling on the Chancellor to provide additional support for businesses.
Chief executive Sara Williams said: “Staffordshire businesses urgently need a comprehensive plan to help them with business cash flow and support to protect jobs and livelihoods.
“We hope to see the Government introduce a broader range of measures to rebuild the UK economy, including boosting business investment, replacing EU funding, supporting young people in the labour market and addressing long-standing challenges facing the UK economy, such as Business Rates reform.”
Alun Rogers, chair of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP , believes it is “vital” that the Government invests in jobs, skills and infrastructure as well as support for businesses in the hard-hit leisure, hospitality and culture sectors.
He said: “Supporting jobs and investing in the development of skills in growth areas will be key for our region; this will enable existing businesses to innovate, future-proof and grow, as well as catalysing the creation of exciting new start-ups across the area.
“Infrastructure remains vital to the LEP and our partners. We must be able to continue to deliver major projects to help to develop the city as a more attractive place to live, work and invest as we navigate our way through recovery from the pandemic and take the lead in terms of the levelling-up agenda.
“We also need to support our hard-hit businesses across the leisure, hospitality, retail and cultural sectors; post-pandemic, these sectors are likely to experience demand like never before and so we need to provide them with the right resource and opportunity – not only to come through this and survive, but indeed to thrive for the long-term.”
Midlands transport chiefs this week outlined a £400 million wish list from the Chancellor for a raft of rail and other projects across the region.
Midlands Connect wants to see funding for improvements to road corridors such as the A50/A500 in Staffordshire and the A46 which cuts right across the region and much more regular services to and from Birmingham Moor Street station.
The body also wants a new single smart payment system for multiple transport modes, akin to the Oyster card in London.
Director Maria Machancoses said: “The Chancellor has the opportunity to demonstrate his intent.
“Pre-pandemic, we’d made huge strides in boosting the use of public transport.
“In the West Midlands, rail use had more than doubled in the decade leading up to 2020. Lockdown restrictions brought the network to a standstill, erasing our progress.
“We need a network that links the whole of the Midlands region, east to west.
“We need more space to bring trains into the city centre at Birmingham Moor Street station. Finally, we also need to create space on our rail network for more rail freight.”
Ceramic industry trade association the British Ceramic Confederation is calling for the Government to back UK manufacturers.
The Stoke-based organisation, which represents more than 90 per cent of the UK ceramic industry’s manufacturing capacity, wants the Government to “use every opportunity to buy British” and to promote UK manufactured goods internationally.
Technical director Dr Andrew McDermott said: “The budget comes at a critical time, with the sector facing the triple challenge of recovering from Covid-19, adapting to new trading arrangements with the EU and transitioning towards net-zero emissions while being internationally competitive.
“Covid-19 and the ensuing economic shock has had a sudden and dramatic impact on ceramic businesses and supply chains, and exports have understandably taken a hit.
“We call on the Government to use every opportunity to buy British, re-launch the Great Britain and Northern Ireland international promotion campaign to generate jobs and growth, and encourage the use of UK manufactured goods.”
Grant Thornton has surveyed mid-sized businesses in the West Midlands to find out what they would like to see in the Budget.
The research said they want the Chancellor to prioritise growth over introducing or extending covid-19 support.
Around 51 per cent of companies in the region think Rishi Sunak should focus on measures to encourage business growth, versus 33 per cent who want additional covid support and 16 per cent which are in favour of recovery measures.
Incentives for employers to invest in R&D, support low carbon business strategies and simplification of the UK business tax system top the wish lists.
Dave Hillan, practice leader at Grant Thornton in Birmingham, said: “Government support has been vital during the pandemic yet, as we can see clearly from the findings of this research, the region’s businesses are starting to look longer term, prioritising incentives and investment that support growth, with less reliance on government handouts.
“The increased levels of optimism compared to the end of last year are a welcome sign business leaders are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, no doubt driven by the ongoing success of the UK vaccine programme and the Bank of England’s predictions of a strong economic recovery.”
Meanwhile the Midlands branch of the insolvency and restructuring trade body R3 is calling on the Government for greater clarity over how struggling businesses, staff and the self-employed will be helped when support packages and bans on creditor enforcement actions are withdrawn.
The plea comes as monthly statistics issued by the Insolvency Service show that corporate insolvencies in England and Wales decreased by 39.1 per cent to 752 in January 2021, compared to the previous month’s figure of 1,235.
R3 Midlands chairman Eddie Williams said: “These latest insolvency statistics do not reflect the damage the pandemic has done to businesses and the economy and it’s clear that….we will see a surge in firms who are struggling.
“We urge the Chancellor to give a clear outline of how these measures will be phased out in an orderly manner over the medium term and how businesses, staff and the self-employed will be supported during this period.”
Steve Harcourt, director at Prime Accountants in Coventry, said: “The Chancellor has already supported businesses with an incredible £330 billion to help firms survive and avoid many more job losses than those we have seen already.
“The crisis has not only taken its toll when it comes to health, it has had a much bigger economic impact than any of us were predicting this time a year ago.
“We’ve moved into another lockdown and the transition period with the EU has come to an end.
“Extending furlough, even if it were sector specific to those hit hardest, would be welcomed.
“I also believe businesses need an extension or further deferment on VAT to give companies more time to pay.
“Business Rate relief is another area where the Chancellor can support firms with their cashflow and we would also hope to see more help for the self-employed.”