Wednesday, 28 March 2012

We have applauded the first two ‘Osborne’ Budgets but on this occasion our verdict is ‘must do better’

As yet another Budget comes and goes I am keenly aware that the rhetoric surrounding it has changed little over the years. Those on the same political side as the Chancellor pick out the bits they like and herald the whole thing as though he had produced the elixir of life, those from the opposition pick out the bits they don’t like and accuse him of being something akin to the devil incarnate. Neither approach does them any credit nor does it do us mere mortals any particular service.

In my view this year’s budget was not too different from the majority I have listened to over the last twenty or thirty years, good in parts not so good in others, from my perspective it neither got the blood racing nor did it make it boil. Of course the reduction in Corporation tax is welcome as is the support for companies engaging in research and development but the failure to retract plans to increase fuel duty and business rates was disappointing. Despite claims to the contrary this was not a budget to inspire growth, it was neutral at best.

Whilst some Hertfordshire businesses are starting to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ times remain tough. These, previously announced increases will only hinder hard pressed business people in their efforts to grow profits and in so doing to provide the platform that will create much needed jobs. Arguably this government has done much to stabilise the economy following years of profligacy by its predecessor but much more needs to be done.

Whilst applauding the Chancellor for ‘steadying the ship’ one is, nonetheless, entitled to ask “what next”. Once stability has been achieved we have to plan for growth. As any experienced business person will tell you standing still is rarely an option. There is much to be done and I certainly recognise that the challenges are complex but, loading additional cost burden on thousands of small businesses is not the answer. Certainly the reduction in Corporation Tax will help some but it won’t make up for the additional property costs (including rent) or the burgeoning increases in fuel costs. Added to the additional National Insurance costs landed on business during the last throes of the previous government it requires, if anything, genuine reductions in the cost of doing business.

The British Chambers of Commerce recently launched its ‘Business is good for Britain’ campaign it might have used the word ‘essential’. Whichever way one cuts it when it comes to wealth and job creation business is ‘the only game in town’. Hertfordshire businesses in particular have demonstrated extremely high levels of resilience in the face of rising costs and increased global competition. Given a supportive environment Hertfordshire businesses will begin to take up the slack in the jobs market but they cannot do so if they are continually put under pressure by the effects of indirect taxation. We have applauded the first two ‘Osborne’ Budgets but on this occasion our verdict is ‘must do better’.