East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles comments on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement.
Commenting on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement delivered today (Wednesday 22 November 2023), East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles said: “There were a lot of big headlines in the Autumn Statement but many of the underlying fundamentals weren’t addressed, leaving businesses feeling somewhat underwhelmed.
“The Chancellor rightly identifies the importance of supporting businesses to invest to grow the economy.
“Our members have expressed a real frustration with issues such as their people and skills needs, planning red tape and access to the energy grid, so it was reassuring to hear the Chancellor use the same language in responding to these concerns.
“But ultimately there was limited content to suggest Government is getting a firm grip on tackling these persistent problems, which continue to hamper firms’ ability to invest, grow and create jobs.
“For example, while there was some mention of boosting the number of apprenticeships in key sectors such as engineering, it feels like policies are teetering around the edges rather than informing a dedicated skills strategy that will set the foundations for businesses’ people needs both now and into the future.
“And while changes to late payments and extending business rates discounts for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are a short-term boost for small firms, what we really need is a full overhaul of the business rates system.
“In our regional economic blueprint, titled A Centre of Trading Excellence: A Business Manifesto for Growth in the East Midlands and Beyond, we have stated the importance of economic policy focusing on the ‘four Is’ – investment, innovation, infrastructure and international trade.
“With this in mind, it was pleasing to see the Chancellor confirm the full expensing regime made permanent as this incentivises businesses to invest in their plant and machinery in order to innovate and raise productivity levels – a crucial component in meeting demand with supply and bringing down prices for end consumers.
“The new East Midlands Investment Zone, anchored by private investment from Rolls-Royce and Laing O’Rourke, also showcases how Government can work in partnership with industry to create thousands of new jobs in key sectors such as advanced manufacturing and green industries.
“But there was little mentioned about delivering the infrastructure our businesses need to grow and succeed, or in tackling the international trade barriers that have put a drawbridge for exporters.
“We know the uncertain period before a General Election will typically have an adverse effect on business sentiment, so it was important not to do anything that sets the hares running. In this sense, it was mission accomplished for the Chancellor, but businesses will have hoped for more extensive policies that deliver the confidence needed to really get the economy growing again.”