Wednesday 23rd November will see Philip Hammond deliver a significant and keenly anticipated Autumn Statement. This once dull update on forecasts has become a “mini budget” in recent years and with the smell of uncertainty in the air following the shock Brexit vote and the recent American elections, its content this year more than most is anxiously awaited, as markets, investors and businesses are all looking for strong leadership around Britain’s economic future.
With George Osborne’s targets to ‘balance the books’ by 2020 abandoned, rumor has it that infrastructure spending, housebuilding and a potential corporation tax are high on his agenda as he looks to steer the country through these challenging times to a bright and sustainable economic future. We would support the Chancellor in any move which fosters business confidence to stimulate growth in our economy. To do this we would like to see Mr Hammond show support for UK small and medium sized businesses in three ways.
Firstly, we strongly urge the Chancellor to increase spending in infrastructure projects that delivers economic benefits and productivity gains. Improving our road and rail network is great for our transport sector but also supports the countries construction industry which would benefit from continued investment and provide support to the economy in way of jobs and spending ability. The Government expect most of this spend to be delivered via local bodies such as the Local Enterprise Partnerships and their local growth fund giving rise to local small business optimism.
Secondly, experience tells us that when the economy is in danger of slowing, businesses hold back on invoice payments. Late payment continues to be a destructive issue for small and medium sized firms and despite talk of a ‘name and shame’ website by the Government in the run up to the 2015 election, its implementation has had little effect. Some real tangible action is needed to call a halt to this damaging culture by larger firms. It’s time the Government got serious on this issue and put in place actions which will drive real change to poor payment behaviour.
Finally, access to finance remains a significant issue for UK businesses. A recently published Parliament report on “business access to finance” found that British business growth is being restricted by a lack of awareness amongst SMEs surrounding alternative finance options and how they might meet the needs of a new and growing business. It is critical that the Government drives the British Business Bank to broaden its view on the different types of alternative finance solutions available as well as understanding how we can promote these solutions to those who play an important advisory role to SME’s specifically in the accountancy, legal and banking sector.
We will await Wednesdays announcement with anticipation but are sure that based on events this year, Mr Hammond would be forgiven for having a surprise or two up his sleeve!