Businesses and households across Lancashire were today eagerly awaiting Chancellor Philip Hammond’s last ever Spring Budget.
Speculation abounds over whether it will be a “safe” Budget or contain a major announcement such as the creation of “free” grammar schools.
Among the main immediate gripes in Lancashire are business rates as the results of the VOA’s revaluation become clear and bills are due on April fools day.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Chamber of Commerce said help with those rates and a quicker appeals process was vital.
She said: “Increasing business worries demonstrate the pressing need for action on business rates in the Budget this week.
“The UK had the highest business property taxes in the developed world even before the recent revaluation - hitting firms with sky-high costs before they turn over a single pound. This undermines business investment, which in 2016, fell for the first time in seven years.
“As the new bills kick in from April 1st, many will see this situation get worse with some facing double, even triple-digit growth in the amount they must pay. Businesses face a tipping point: with rates rising for many and the combined costs of currency depreciation, the new National Living Wage, Pensions auto-enrolment and rising energy prices - urgent action is needed to reduce the upfront costs of doing business.
“In the short-term, the Government must help in providing additional relief to the businesses hit hardest by rates and re-visit the detail of reform to the appeals system. It should bring forward the change from RPI to CPI this year.
“In the longer-term, fundamental change is needed, including stripping plant and machinery from rates assessments that does so much to discourage business investment.”
Paul Foster, development manager a the Federation of Small Businesses which has its HQ in Blackpool, said: “Businesses are seeing rising overheads through areas such as pensions auto-enrolment for staff and the introduction of the National Living Wage. Changes to the taxation of dividend payments are also coming in which will affect the bottom line of many small businesses. We would like to see the Employment Allowance extended so that employers can offset some of these costs against their national insurance bill, by reducing the amounts required to be paid.
“We want to see support for businesses who are seeing large increases in their business rates from April to offer them support going forward and ensure they don’t have to lay off staff or even consider closure.
“We would also like to see recognition of the growth of self-employment in the last few years, which now accounts for 15 per cent of the total workforce.
“Government needs to recognise changing working practices and cultures and ensure the self-employed are not excluded from the social security system. The self-employed take significant risks in running a business and are more likely to have varying salary levels than other groups, so the tax and benefits system should seek to support them.”
Luke Massie, managing director at Lancaster-based Vibe Tickets said.
“I’d like to see the Chancellor offer more support to entrepreneurs and start-ups in the Budget.
“Building your own business is always challenging and so new sources of funding, additional tax relief or support channels would certainly be welcomed.