Steadying the ship but more help needed – Midlands businesses respond
Businesses across the Midlands today warned the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement stopped short of long-term measures to promote growth, improve skills and tackle rising costs.
Jeremy Hunt MP said his plan for stability, which will raise £55bn via stealth tax rises and spending cuts, was necessary as the UK enters recession. But many companies today said the measures didn’t go far enough in addressing the immediate threats to business.
Telford food processor Bridge Cheese has seen sales rises by £10m in the last year but faces ongoing challenges with labour shortages. Michael Harte, managing director, said although helping to steady the ship, the statement did not necessarily inspire confidence in growth.
The Stafford Park-based company supplies cheese products to food wholesalers and retailers across the UK.
Michael said: “We want to push forward – we have recently increased our production facility in Telford with the addition of a second line, but we need action around people, skills and exports just as much as fiscal measures.”
His comments were echoed by training and employment charity Landau, with chief executive Sonia Roberts warning that many projects in Shropshire, Herefordshire and across the Midlands which currently supported those furthest from the job market were at risk of losing vital funding.
She said: “Each year at Landau we support thousands of vulnerable individuals to gain the skills and confidence they need for sustainable employment. However, vital funding for many of these schemes is due to end in March next year and, as yet, the government is still to confirm how funding will be distributed through the new UK Prosperity Fund.
“Whilst we welcome the Chancellor’s pledge to support the unemployed, what we really need is some firm decisions by central and local government on the level of funding that might be available so that we can continue to deliver life-changing projects and get people into work.”
The Chancellor also outlined spending for the NHS and social care, with a commitment of £1 billion to directly support discharges from hospital into the community.
Kevin Stevens is President of E5 Group which includes Warwickshire-based E5 Care, currently working with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council on multi-million-pound plans for an extra care housing development in Brierley Hill.
He said: “One of the major factors jamming the NHS and adult social care system is the lack of quality care accommodation for adults who are ready for hospital discharge. That’s because the cost of providing that care is often out of reach of local authorities which are already financially stretched, so this is an overdue step in the right direction.
“The Government needs to consider alternative ways to solve the social care crisis. For example, the E5 Care project in Dudley removes the financial block for local authorities as it requires no capital commitment and can be afforded within existing housing budgets. We need innovative approaches if we are to tackle a problem which will only increase thanks to our ageing population.”
Debbie Price, chief executive of Shropshire’s largest not-for-profit care provider Coverage Care Services, said the Chancellor’s £8 billion investment in health and social care services was very much needed but warned that urgent efforts were needed nationally to help tackle the mounting recruitment challenges facing the sector.
She said: “Across the care sector and health profession nationally it’s becoming increasingly harder to attract new recruits and retain existing staff. The challenges of the pandemic have taken their toll on the workforce in general and we are fighting an uphill struggle when it comes to promoting health and social care as a career of choice to people.
“It’s a serious issue which needs addressing urgently if care homes up and down the UK are to be expected to support the NHS and help free up thousands of hospital beds through community discharge.”
Other stealth taxes included in the measures today were a further freeze on inheritance tax thresholds, which will see more bereaved families paying more tax until at least 2028.
Redditch lawyer Sara Simson said the freeze was a “raid” on the assets of thousands of hard-working families across the UK.
The FBC Manby Bowdler solicitor said the inheritance tax grab by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to help plug the hole in the UK’s finances would net the Treasury around an extra £1bn.
“With rising inflation, this freeze on the inheritance tax threshold until 2028 will see bereaved families facing huge death duties – it is a raid on the hard-earned savings and assets of hundreds of families in this region.
“We are expecting a hike in enquiries about the setting up of trusts and charitable legacies as although not a direct tax increase, it’s certainly something which will be felt by many families thanks to rising inflation and recent uplifts in property prices.”