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George Osborne

FSB calls for Autumn Statement to deliver investment and support business ambitions

A reform of business rates, tax simplification, better roads and faster broadband is needed against a backdrop of solid support for small businesses, says the Federation of Small Businesses.

In its submission to Government in advance of Autumn Statement on 3 December, the FSB has called on the Chancellor to continue supporting business confidence by reforming business rates, taking forward tax simplification, and investing in infrastructure to strengthen and rebalance the economic recovery.

With continued uncertainty in the Eurozone and elsewhere, the body says, the priority for the Government must be to place the UK economy on a sound fiscal footing to secure its future growth and create the best possible environment for firms to do business, both in the UK and globally.

In its submission, the trade body writes:

“Reforming business rates

“With the ending of the doubling of small business rates relief in March 2015, almost half a million (384,000) small businesses are at risk of returning to paying rates they can ill afford, with thousands more (190,000) potentially seeing their rates bills double.

“With the economic recovery just taking hold and many firms on the High Street still struggling, it is essential that the temporary doubling of relief, announced in the 2013 Autumn Statement speech, is extended.

“The FSB is also calling for improvements to the system for valuation and appeals which are overly bureaucratic, and above all a commitment to fundamental reform of the businesses rate system.

“Investing in infrastructure to rebalance the economy

“The FSB is calling for the Chancellor to announce additional investment in our national infrastructure, to ensure the UK remains competitive internationally and to help rebalance the UK economy.

“It is clear that the lack of investment and ongoing delays in making decisions, such as those around additional airport capacity, are a drag on UK productivity and growth particularly in the regions outside London and the South East.

“A key priority for the Chancellor should be to invest in improving our road infrastructure, and address bottlenecks in regional road networks. Eighty two per cent of small firms rely on the road network to run their businesses.

“To rebalance the economy and stimulate growth outside London and the South East, improving and diversifying transport connections between key Northern cities such as Manchester and Sheffield is vital, building on the “One North” approach recently endorsed by the Chancellor.

“As part of this, serious consideration should be given to a tunnelled trans-Pennine road route to complement the proposed HS3 rail development.

“Creating a faster more modern digital infrastructure is essential for businesses growth, and is a vital tool to encouraging growth in all parts of the UK. Ninety four per cent of small business owners consider a reliable internet connection critical to the success of their business.

“Access to broadband services is now the ‘Fourth Utility’ and the Government’s ambition for future broadband should match this reality. The FSB is calling on Government to commit to delivering a minimum ‘service level floor’ of 10 Mbps to all premises in the UK by 2018-19, rising to 100 Mbps for all premises by 2030.

“Tax simplification

“The FSB is asking the Chancellor to commit to further simpler tax simplification that reduces deadweight costs on compliance and makes rules easier to understand and comply with.

“Overly complex tax rules cost small businesses both time and money, with more than three quarters paying around £3,500 a year to comply with obligations.

“Action to simplify rules is needed as three fifths of small businesses report the UK tax system has a negative impact on their ability to take on more staff and grow.”

John Allan, National Chairman of Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Businesses want an Autumn Statement that delivers stability and certainty, and provides them with incentives to grow and create employment.

“That means investing in our infrastructure to match the world’s best, whether that be broadband, road, rail or air. Regional connectivity, particularly between our great cities in the North, must be improved if the region is to reach its full potential and challenge the economic prowess of London.

“We encourage the Chancellor to progress plans to set out how that vision might be fulfilled. Likewise, we would like to see sights set far higher on broadband connectivity to power the UK’s digital economy.

“On taxes, businesses will be looking for measures to ease the cost of business rates, and a commitment to fundamental reform of the current, outdated system. To support business growth and reduce costs, further efforts to simplify our complex tax system should also form a central part of the Statement.

“The FSB has also long called for simplified and sharpened business support to match businesses’ growth ambitions. Unfortunately current schemes have not had the impact they should have, which is why the FSB has called for reforms.

“We are pleased the Government has reviewed the current offer this year, with a view to making it easier to access. We now look forward to seeing what progress has been made.”