By Jo Sellick, managing director, Sellick Partnership
“As the nation prepares for its first Autumn Budget, it is time for our business leaders to seriously consider what measures are required to get the economy moving, and the Chancellor must take note. The pound remains worryingly low and the expense of importing goods is hitting even our biggest retailers, with Sainsbury’s the latest to announce a fall in profits last week. This begs the question of how bad the impact is on smaller businesses, which cannot afford to shoulder losses in the same way as our biggest brands.
A drop in business rates is expected to be included in the Budget and this would be welcome news, but Philip Hammond must extend this kind of action to make a noticeable improvement to our nation’s employers. The whole business rates system is in dire need of an overhaul, not to mention the level of investment required in the wider economy to get things moving again and boost productivity. Other areas for improvement include a general loosening of fiscal constraints, which would certainly be welcomed by business leaders. What has happened to the progress promised regarding the Northern Powerhouse? Infrastructure improvements have come to a standstill and the region does not seem to be moving at the speed in which the government intended when it laid out its plans a number of years ago.
The reason for this slowdown is largely a result of the government’s attention being turned elsewhere, in the direction of Europe. Brexit has been the main focus of Theresa May and her unruly Cabinet for the whole of 2017, which would not be a bad thing if it was resulting in concrete action and strong steps forward. But Brexit also seems to be plodding along at a worryingly slow rate. A successful deal must be agreed as soon as possible so that our businesses and the country as a whole knows what we are facing when the withdrawal happens in March 2019. Hopefully the recent pressure from Michel Barnier, chief negotiator, for Britain to clarify its position in the next fortnight will help to move things along. It is almost impossible to prepare for something that looks so woolly and uncertain; what we need is a firm set of parameters and scenarios to plan for.
Closer to home, it is essential for the Budget to contain measures that take the strain off the NHS. It will be particularly interesting to see how this is handled as part of the new timeframe, as the Autumn Budget lands at the busiest time for the health service, which is expected to be dangerously overburdened this winter. Hammond should be announcing measures to lessen this burden and bring more staff to the NHS, not just in frontline roles but across the board. NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, is not the only one to be calling for more accountability over the Vote Leave claims that £350 million per week would be coming to the NHS if we left the EU. Even just a tiny fraction of this money would allow for the recruitment drive our Health Service so desperately needs.
As the Budget approaches and the Cabinet remains in disarray, I can only hope that the Chancellor has a strong plan that the Prime Minister appears to be lacking at the moment. The Budget must bring stability to our businesses and economy, showing that Britain is indeed open for business and remains a force to be reckoned with.”