It would be churlish not to give credit to the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak for delivering a dynamic and effective first budget this week.
There are more things that I would have liked to have seen, for sure, but as a starting point his announcements around infrastructure spending, a number of business-friendly initiatives, additional cash for devolved authorities and a new devolution deal for Leeds and West Yorkshire must be applauded.
On the business support agenda is a commitment to give companies easier access to finance to help us get through cash flow difficulties which may well arise in the coming months as a result of Coronavirus.
This is good news – but only so long as the banks rediscover their appetite to support the business community in a meaningful way and remember that ‘risk’ should be part of their armory and approach as we enter a further period of uncertainty.
I hope the Chancellor will be holding banks to account and putting in place monitoring processes so that we can demonstrably and transparently see evidence of a new wave of serious, genuine banking finance support for business.
The proliferation of business funding support agencies in recent times has been a welcome addition to the market and I have received excellent support from Funding Circle as Downtown in Business has gone on its growth journey over the past five years. However, the money is relatively expensive and not all SMEs will be an attractive proposition for crowdfunding initiatives.
Equally, many Government backed funds are painfully bureaucratic – and again tend to be more risk averse than a budding entrepreneur would hope them to be.
So, this new lending facility coupled with a drop in interest rates, ought to see the reset button well and truly pushed and the banks become a businesses first port of call in the coming weeks.
Announcements around business rates are also to be welcomed. Our hospitality and retail sectors are being hammered at the moment and any assistance is both needed and very well received.
Likewise, the raising of the National Insurance threshold, an increase in support for R&D, a freeze on fuel duty and the review of the ‘Green Book’ rules are all positive moves.
However, as with all budgets, there were misses that need to be flagged. Austerity may well have come to an end, but local authorities across the country can rightly feel let down for being ignored in the Coronavirus fight. Social care is the responsibility of our council’s and unless I have missed something there appears to have been no additional resources promised for what will inevitably be a period of increased demand.
I think the virtual abolition of Entrepreneurs tax relief is counter intuitive, doing the absolute opposite of the Government’s stated objective of building and encouraging an enterprise culture in the UK.
And, for those involved in housing and property development, was there anything at all? A much- needed review of planning laws and planning reform that can let us get on with a long overdue house building programme was the least I expected in relation to the sector.
Nonetheless, as I said at the outset, overall, it is a decent budget and one that business can welcome build on.
There was much talk during the Brexit debate of how fantastic us Brits are in a crisis. Our ability to adopt a stiff upper lip and take on all-comers has seen us punch well above our Islands weight throughout history and we were constantly reminded that we have won not one, but two World Wars. It was suggested that such robustness and courage was inbuilt into our DNA.
I’m not sure how that narrative sits alongside images this week of people panic buying bog roll and many supermarkets shelves being left empty as the ‘Bulldog’ British public have reacted to the Coronavirus outbreak in a state of inexplicable panic.
I am no medical expert, but it seems to me that common sense should dictate a far calmer and measured approach from all of us.
To put this new virus into context. The death rate in China due to Coronavirus is 1 in 454,401.
The death rate in the UK due to traffic accidents in 2018 was 1 in 37,536.
Effectively you were 12 times more likely to die in a UK road accident in 2018 than you are to die of Coronavirus in China!
Of course, we should be taking necessary precautions and washing our hands more thoroughly and regularly. But I wonder if we will be looking back on this episode in the future, wondering what all the fuss was really about?