It’s November, the nights are getting colder, the days shorter and, naturally, our thoughts are turning towards the season’s big event: the Autumn Statement.
During George Osborne’s reign as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Autumn Statement came to be something of a “mini- budget,” setting out new policy until the bigger changes heralded by March’s budget announcements. There is, however, a new man in Number 11 and Mr. Hammond seems intent on setting his own course come November 23.
It is, however, Mr. Hammond’s first event in the new job, so we can expect some notable policy pledges from him.
Mrs. May’s government has regularly highlighted the importance of SMEs in driving forward a post-EU Britain, so we’d love to see Mr. Hammond’s first statement as chancellor to be an SME statement. So, ahead of the big day, we asked what announcements would make the lives of SMEs easier in the coming months and years.
What SMEs want from the Autumn Statement
Here’s what we want to see from Mr. Hammond’s big moment:
1. Invest in true broadband
The broadband debate is an old one but so much is still to be done. The UK is 20th in the world for download speeds and only 32-percent of the country is capable of achieving internet speeds above 15 mps — adequate for a light personal user but far from ideal from a business of any size. As fibre-optic broadband spreads, the world is becoming faster.
That means big increases in broadband investment from the government. Connectivity and entrepreneurship are directly correlated and any improvement in this basic service has a positive, direct impact on new ideas, new businesses and incremental growth.
2. Lower business rates
Fourteen stores close down each day in the UK. The numbers are down from 2012 when 20 stores a day disappeared from our high streets, but it remains unsustainably high while retailer confidence remains shaky. The tribulations of Brexit will make for unpredictable high street spending, and rates in the London boroughs are actually set to rise in April — a grim combination for small shop owners. We need to help, not hinder, those shops and keeping business rates low is the simplest way to do that.
3. Help getting paid on time
Cashflow is king. Late paid and delayed invoices are the death knell of small businesses. The government can help. It can strengthen laws to ensure payment timescales are kept and make it simpler and cheaper for SMEs to pursue unpaid invoices through the legal system. It’s simple but will save many an SME from bankruptcy.
4. Structural investment
Follow through on the big infrastructural projects implicated in the UK industrial strategy. Investment in HS2, Heathrow’s third runway and beyond will primarily bring benefits to the country’s largest corporations, but more business for them means more business for the UK’s SME’s. Major infrastructure improvement brings that business.
If the Autumn Statement brings half of these policies, we’ll have a great foundation for British business and the opportunity for Britain’s small businesses to really perform on the world stage. So, Mr. Hammond, the spotlight’s yours.