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Hampshire Chamber seeks sustainability to invest and grow from Spring Budget

5 March 2024
The Business Magazine article image for: Hampshire Chamber seeks sustainability to invest and grow from Spring Budget
Ross McNally, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber

With the Spring Budget due this week, Hampshire Chamber’s chief executive and executive chair Ross McNally has laid out the top priorities that members wish for the chancellor to address.

“Given the huge economic shocks we have seen and the enduring challenges we face, the Chancellor must do everything possible to create a sustainable environment in which businesses can invest and grow”, said Ross.

“A budget package with a focus on skills, tax incentives, business rates reform and support for infrastructure planning would go a long way to achieve that.”

For example, the chamber is calling on Jeremy Hunt to commit to funding business-led Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) beyond the current 2025 cut-off point to at least 2028.

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“These robust, targeted initiatives are absolutely vital to our regional economy”, Ross added.

“They will increasingly equip people with essential skills for career success while enabling employers to resolve the critical skills shortages they face in their workplaces.”

Hampshire Chamber itself led the research and implementation of the Solent LSIP, as well as playing a key role in the Enterprise M3 LSIP covering Hampshire and Surrey.

“Already, Hampshire’s further education sector has received millions of pounds’ worth of investment in strategic support for the skills agenda thanks to business cases put forward by our LSIPs”, said Ross.

“That activity must not stop now. Mr Hunt must continue to prioritise funding for skills in our region.”

Top of the agenda for chamber members too is tax. Ross pointed to the upcoming budget as a ‘prime opportunity’ to further improve tax breaks and business incentives following the measures introduced in the last autumn statement.

“Making permanent the system of allowances for capital investment in plant, machinery and IT – so-called ‘full expensing’ – was a move welcomed by many firms”, he said.

“Now the chancellor should go further and accelerate help for business. Specifically, we call on him to lower the VAT rate for the hospitality sector.

“If he does, this will boost consumer spending, help cashflow for the many SMEs who operate restaurants, pubs, hotels and leisure facilities, and support long-term investment in hospitality skills and employment.

“As an attractive destination for overseas visitors, Hampshire would also benefit from the introduction of tax-free shopping schemes.

“This would help our hard-pressed retailers and hospitality providers to compete with other countries and show we’re very much open for business.”

Meanwhile, Hampshire Chamber’s own surveys have found that members often hold back on investment plans as a result of financial pressure from business rates, which Ross said ‘remain an iniquitous tax on many struggling firms’.

“We therefore call for long-overdue action to reform business rates and finally make it a system that incentivises rather than chokes off growth.”

Ross ended with a note on infrastructure, as many of the chamber’s members have faced roadblocks over recent months in the planning system.

“Much-needed growth is continually stymied because of limited resource within hard-pressed local planning authorities”, he added.

“We call on Mr Hunt to match fund a nationwide, industry-led, chamber-backed scheme designed to make it easier for authorities to employ newly qualified graduates and upskill existing staff.

“While this newly launched scheme may not have an immediate impact this year, it will lay the groundwork for expediting planning decisions and stimulating growth in the future. “The government can make this happen more quickly by committing its support.”

Read more - Solent SME Growth 100 award winners revealed

Born and raised in Berkshire, Dan fell into journalism after completing his bachelor’s degree in English at UCL.

Writing for The Business Magazine and local Biz News sites has given him the opportunity to chat with all manner of small business owners and share their success stories with a wider audience.

Outside of work, Dan enjoys live music, board games and quiz shows, and is making a slow but persistent effort to learn Spanish.

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