Today’s budget, the first from new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has been broadly welcomed by Bedford’s business community, although critics state it will double the government’s borrowing.
Alongside a raft of measures to protect businesses from the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), it also sees a £5bn COVID-19 response fund for the NHS, £40m funding for rapid research into testing and surveillance and enhanced statutory sick pay measures.
The Chancellor has announced he is abolishing business rates for one year for retail, leisure and hospitality sectors and has introduced a £5,000 rates discount for pubs.
In addition, any company eligible for small business rates relief will be allowed a £3,000 cash grant.
“We at Wells & Co. welcome the support outlined by the Government today,” said Ed Robinson, communications manager, Wells & Co.
“These measures will benefit the wider community, but will prove particularly helpful to small business owners such as our Pub Partners.”
Together with existing Small Business Rates Relief, an estimated 900,000 properties, or 45% of all properties in England, will receive 100% business rates relief in 2020/21.
The government confirmed an additional £2.2 billion funding for Local Authorities to support small businesses that pay little or no Business Rates because of Small Business Rate Relief. Local authorities will be fully compensated for these Business Rates measures.
“There’s much to welcome in this Budget for the Bedfordshire business community,” said Justin Richardson, chief executive of Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce.
“The Chancellor has listened to our calls to support companies, particularly SME’s, overcome the challenges posed by coronavirus.
“Suspending business rates for eligible retail, leisure or hospitality businesses with a rateable value below £51,000 and £3,000 grants for firms that qualify for small business rate relief will help local businesses navigate an economic shock.”
Richard Fuller, Member of Parliament for North East Bedfordshire and member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, has welcomed the package of measures in the Budget to deal with the effects of Coronavirus.
Speaking from the House of Commons, Richard said, “These are an impressive range of measures specifically targeted to small and medium sized businesses, the self-employed and those on benefits.
“It is good to see a lot of this support going direct to those who need it rather than relying solely on money going through the banks. This is a more direct route to help businesses in need than the response to the financial crisis in 2008.”
While the Budget offered support for small businesses, the British Retail Consortium expressed disappointment that larger retailers, including under-threat Debenhams, had been overlooked.
“The Chancellor has shown he is capable of making bold decisions, this will be critical to the upcoming review of the broken business rate system,” said Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium,
“We welcome the stated objectives of reducing the rates burden on business, something we have been calling for, and the inclusion of changes to transitional relief as an option to provide short-term relief from April 2021.
“It is vital that the burden is reduced for all retailers – large and small – if it is to promote further investment in productivity growth and higher skilled, better paid jobs. We hope this open-minded approach carries through to implementing positive changes once the review has concluded later this year.
“Despite announcing his support for British business, the Chancellor has failed to provide any relief for larger retailers, who employ the majority of the industry’s 3 million workers and currently foot most of the industry’s £7.5bn business rates bill.
“In April, these retailers will face yet another rise in business rates across England, piling on even more pressure on shops at a time when they are squeezed by lower demand and increasing costs arising from coronavirus.”
MP for Bedford, Mohammad Yasin said, “Today’s budget, which will double Government borrowing is proof their austerity agenda, which brought unnecessary pain and suffering to millions, was a failure.
“The UK economy was alarmingly weak even before coronavirus. Brexit has already made the economy 2% smaller than it would have otherwise been, and we are still in the transition period, which is protecting us for now, from the economic shock.
“While the NHS and social care are both in the mix for extra emergency funding to deal with the Coronavirus, which I fully support, after a decade of Tory-led governments, the NHS and our social care sector are chronically under-funded, under-resourced and under-staffed, just at the moment we need them most.
“The very substantial additional infrastructure investment that the Chancellor announced today is welcome but there are huge question marks over the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change and the long-promised plan to fix the crisis in social care has been ignored again.
“The spending measures alongside today’s cuts to interest rates may keep us out of recession for the time being but its difficult to feel reassured that our economy is strong enough to cope with the unknown impact of coronavirus at the same time as our plans for leaving the EU are still so uncertain.”