Declan’s Blog: Dear Chancellor of the Exchequer, this is our business ‘wish list’ for the Autumn Statement’…

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In last month’s Money Matters Forum meeting, we discussed the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement which will be delivered on Wednesday 22nd November 2023. We’ve developed a number of key business ‘asks’.

Infrastructure investment – We ask for more investment in our energy grid network. Such investment could generate a multiplier effect to boost the economy. Private business investment is being stymied by an overloaded grid. We know of Staffordshire businesses who are unable to offload surplus energy into the grid, due to a lack of suitable infrastructure.

Business rates – A fundamental review of the business rates system, with an extension of business rates relief for our hard-pressed retail and hospitality businesses. We would like to see a business rates system which better reflects firms’ ability to pay.  In its current form, the business rates system is a burden on businesses regardless of ability to pay and it does not make allowances for the major changes that have taken place in the UK economy over the last decade.  Many commercial premises in towns and cities lie empty and serve as a reminder of a struggle to compete with online shopping. Indeed, all of our local centres bear witness to this, with some faring particularly badly, deterring not only visitors, but also potential investors.

Planning – Local authority planning teams are struggling under the strain of a heavy caseload and challenges with recruitment and retention of planners. This is causing lengthy delays in getting planning application decisions turned around. Faced with continued delays, businesses may choose to pause their growth and expansion plans, keeping the brakes on local economic development. Reform of a creaking planning system is long overdue and this would help to speed up major infrastructure projects and develop the potential for businesses to grow.

Training – Staffordshire Chambers’ of Commerce has been appointed as the designated employer representative body for the Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP). Since the launch in October 2022, a high volume of activities and data gathering have taken place. Through our work in developing the LSIP for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, we are very much aware that more needs to be done in developing a skilled workforce and tackling skills shortages. We would like to see an introduction of tax breaks in the Autumn Statement, which will encourage firms to invest more in training.

Occupational health – The launch of tax breaks could serve as an encouragement for firms to offer Occupational Health benefits, which will help to keep people in work and avoid the disruptive and damaging impact of long-term sickness.

We hope that your Autumn Statement will outline a clear path for growth from Government, with a strategic vision and a framework which will serve as a shot in the arm for investment.