Hammond's helping hand for Lancashire's high streets

Philip Hammond in the Commons
Philip Hammond in the Commons
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Lancashire business chiefs have praised Chancellor Philip Hammond for listening to their concerns.

The move came as Mr Hammond revealed he was cutting business rates for small firms and unveiled a major package of help for the UK’s high streets.

Small firms in particular have been hit by soaring costs and the rise of online shopping putting a dent in their takings.

The British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses had both urged Mr Hammond to do something positive to halt the decline.

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the Preston-based North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said the Budget was a confidence booster for members.

She said: “This is a huge win for the Chamber network.

“We have campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the business community to ensure the chancellor provides businesses with a strong incentive to invest during the Brexit process.

“We know the uncertainty around Brexit continues to weigh on business, but we are delighted that the government has recognised better productivity, skills and connectivity are all things that the UK government must invest in regardless of the eventual Brexit deal.

“Addressing the broken business rates system, Apprenticeship Levy, connectivity, and the steep cost of doing business will help remove many of the domestic barriers to growth.

“This Budget goes a long way to provide businesses with the support and confidence they need to invest and grow right now”

Mr Hammond said the era of austerity was finally coming to an end as he delivered his last Budget before Brexit.

The chancellor pumped an extra £2.7bn into universal credit after criticism of the new benefit from all sides – and unveiled a new tax on tech giants.Mike Cherry, chairman of the Blackpool-based Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This is the most small-business-friendly budget that this Chancellor has delivered.

“He has listened to our requests across many areas of tax and public policy, putting him firmly on the side of Britain’s small businesses. “

Mr Cherry added: “On the tax front, small firms up and down the country will be pleased to see the VAT threshold frozen for two years.

“FSB was credited in the speech for our campaign on this, stopping an over-reach which would have created a mountain of bureaucracy and a tax-hike for more than a million businesses. I look forward to seeing further innovative changes to VAT post-Brexit.

“Small businesses on our high streets that cannot get Small Business Rate Relief will be delighted with the significant discount for the next 2 years, which on average will help these businesses to the tune of almost £2,000 each, but potentially up to around £16,000 off small businesses facing the biggest bills.

The decision to protect and refocus the Employment Allowance means that small firms will use the £3,000 of help to increase staff hours, improve pay and meet the rising costs of the National Living Wage, boosting jobs and productivity.”

Mr Cherry added: “Through the Budget, the Chancellor is now using the strength of the Treasury to back small business.

“We have already seen a significant change of tone in recent months towards helping businesses, right from the top of Government, and today represents the change of policy that backs this up.

Glenn Bemment, regional director for Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking in the North West, said: “The Chancellor’s promises for immediate business rates relief for small independent retailers and £675million of co-funding to create a ‘Future High Streets Fund’ will be welcomed by many, especially in North West towns like Blackpool, Wigan and Birkenhead, where retail closures have led to large numbers of empty units on the high street.

“It was reassuring to hear that the Northern Powerhouse Rail project remains firmly on the Government’s agenda, which has the potential to foster increased prosperity and productivity in the North West.

“We know that action on business rates and infrastructure were the top priorities for businesses in the North West, both of which were cited by 39 per cent of firms in our pre-Budget survey.

Richard Roberts, partner and head of retail at North West legal practice Brabners said: “The business rates relief announced in today’s Budget will be welcome news for small high street retailers, but it is only a sticking plaster. In the long-term, meaningful structural change to the way business rates are calculated is essential to levelling the playing field between bricks and mortar retailers and their on-line competitors.

“We will need to wait for the end of the consultation on the UK digital services tax to see whether this will help to redress this imbalance.”