Local people respond to Budget 2017

    Local businesses, politicians and groups from across Milton Keynes have responded to the Chancellor's budget this afternoon.

    Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce chief executive Paul Griffiths commented specifically on particular areas of the Budget.

    On Business Rates, the top campaign priority for Chambers of Commerce at the Spring Budget, he said “The business communities hardest-hit by this year’s business rates revaluation will breathe a little easier thanks to the Chancellor’s decision to offer a package of transitional reliefs.

    “We now challenge councils across England to use every penny of the new funding announced by the Chancellor to offer relief to the hardest-hit businesses in their areas, without excuses and without delay.

    “However welcome, measures that mitigate the short-term impact of business rate rises are little more than a sticking plaster. The radical changes needed to improve the broken business rates system will have to wait for another day. The campaign for radical reform – and an end to punishing levels of business property tax to ensure the Treasury raises enough to fund local services – continues.”

    “The decision not to bring forward the switch in indexation from RPI to CPI will cost firms billions – bills they can ill-afford when taken together with other policy costs like the Apprenticeship Levy, pensions auto-enrolment and higher tax on insurance premiums.

    “The government had an opportunity to re-visit the detail of reform to the appeals system but has not addressed the serious concerns ratepayers have. This will mean that more businesses seeking to correct an erroneous bill could go without redress.

    “In the longer-term, fundamental change is needed, including stripping plant and machinery from rates assessments that does so much to discourage business investment.”

    On international trade, Mr Griffiths said “There was a noticeable and disappointing absence of any new support for exporters, or measures to encourage international trade in this Budget. As we begin the Brexit process, it’s more important than ever to get UK businesses trading their goods and services with the world. The government must do more to incentivise and promote companies to be ambitious and trade to new markets.”

    On the Making Tax Digital scheme, Mr Griffiths said “The temporary deferral of making tax digital for firms below the VAT threshold is a welcome step. However, while this will help to ease some of the administrative burden for our smallest businesses, there continues to be serious reservations about HMRC’s ability to deliver such a major undertaking. HMRC must ensure that the move to digital tax accounts does not create new burdens for businesses, and must work closely with the business community, accountants and other stakeholders on their plans for implementation.”

    In today’s Budget the Chancellor also announced £2 billion of additional grant funding for social care over the next three years, £1 billion of which will be made available in 2017/18. This is on top of the £900 million made available to councils through changes to precepts and will allow local authorities to act now to commission new care packages.

    Alongside additional funding, the Health and Communities Secretaries will announce measures to identify and support authorities which are struggling and to ensure more joined up working with the NHS. The government will set out its thinking on the options for the future financing of social care in a Green Paper later this year.

    Commenting on the announcement, local MP Mark Lancaster said: “It is crucial that we look after the elderly people in our local community. I know that, like me, many constituents will be pleased that the Government is providing additional funds to support adult social care in the short term whilst rightly pursuing a long term solution. I will be working with local stakeholders to ensure MK get its fair share once details are announced.”

    Responding to the announcement in the Spring Budget that councils will receive £300 million to provide discretionary business rates relief, Cllr Claire Kober, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said “We have long argued that giving councils the freedom and funding to set discounts and reliefs locally would help them better support small businesses and local economies. We are pleased local authorities will be able to work with businesses in their local areas to identify which need this new discretionary relief funding the most and that some pubs will receive business rates discounts.

    “While measures announced today will not lead to any increase or reduction in funding for local government through business rates, there is a risk that some councils will be left out of pocket because of delays to billing caused by the lack of certainty about relief over recent weeks. It is important that the Government reimburses them for any loss of income or extra costs incurred as a result.

    “Councils do not set business rates but any likely rise in appeals as a result of this latest revaluation does pose a risk to the funding of already-stretched local services.

    “More than a million businesses have challenged their bill since 2010 and more than 200,000 appeals are yet to be decided. This huge volume of appeals shows too many businesses are unhappy with the current system of business rates valuation and has forced councils to divert £2.5 billion away from stretched local services over the past five years to cover the risk of appeals, as they have to fund half the cost of any backdated refunds.

    “Local government will retain more of its business rates income by 2020 and could become liable for 100 per cent of refunds. This means a transparent and fair system of valuation and appeals is vital to provide greater certainty of cost and income to businesses and allow councils to release the money currently put aside to cover the risk of appeals to invest in vital local services.”

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