Yesterday’s spring statement (23 March) from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak saw a number of new measures that the Government hopes will provide some much-needed financial relief to communities and businesses from across the UK.
Of course, there is no sugar-coating the difficulties that many of us currently face – and will further face – in the coming months, given the increase in the cost-of-living, the continued impact due to the pandemic and the very sad emerging situation within Ukraine.
It's therefore very difficult to add commentary to the announcements made by the Chancellor and provide long-term reassurance to communities and businesses up and down the country. We are in unprecedented times that very few people, if any, can predict with confidence.
Hearing from the Office for Budget Responsibility that the national economy is set to grow by 3.8% this year – a drop from the previous prediction of 6% – is of course disappointing. Recovery appears to be happening slower than we would have hoped and there’s no disguising that, but it is growth and we must build upon those green shoots of economic recovery.
That said, for those sectors hardest hit during the pandemic – in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors – a 50% discount in business rates up to £110,000 will provide some reassurance, providing a much-needed buffer following the pandemic.
For workers, an increase to the income threshold at which people start paying National Insurance – up to £12,570 in July – will provide a degree of comfort to some, as will the commitment to cutting the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 19p in the pound before the end of this Parliament.
More broadly, being able to access an additional £500m allocated to the Household Support Fund from April will undoubtedly be critical.
A 5p per litre cut in fuel duty will certainly provide a level of respite to commuters, as well as those businesses reliant upon the haulage and logistics sectors. Though we all recognise other external factors will of course impact upon the longer-term benefit of this measure; its still a welcome boost.
Earlier this year, the Levelling Up White Paper re-affirmed the role of LEPs in the context of regional economic leadership and endorsed our role in supporting our business community to recover effectively from the impacts of the pandemic with confidence and optimism.
Therefore, from a Local Enterprise Partnership point of view, it’s a chance for me to reiterate that we will continue to work closely with Government and our local authority partners to ensure we maximise the support available to our businesses, communities and social enterprise sector delivering a countywide, responsive, agile and flexible support service through our dedicated Business and Skills teams.
There is no denying that the coming months will be extremely tough for businesses and indeed communities – we would ask that you continue to engage with us, ensuring that we can remain live to the challenges you face.
Take that first step and reach out to us. I cannot guarantee we have all the answers, but together we can and will do all in our powers to support, to signpost and broker access to the many services available across county.
Chief Executive – OxLEP