Chancellor George Osborne addresses small business in Budget

Budget 2016: Osborne reveals plan to help retailers on business rates and plans new flood defences, HS3 and a sugar tax to go towards school sport facilities.

The Chancellor warned about low growth in the West and about turbulent financial markets, and announced a further £3.5bn cut in spending by 2019/20 to get the Government's books running a surplus.

Tax changes for business

Osborne said his latest Budget was for a "low tax, enterprise Britain".

Fuel duty is to be frozen for a sixth year in a row, and the 20 per cent headline rate of corporation tax is to fall to 17 per cent by 2020.

Commercial stamp duty will be at a zero per cent rate on purchases up to £150,000, two per cent on the next £100,000 and a five per cent top rate above £250,000. A new two per cent rate for high-value leases with net present value above £5m. 

The annual threshold for small business tax relief will be raised from £6,000 to a maximum of £15,000. From April 2017, small businesses that occupy property with a rateable value of £12,000 or less will pay no business rates. There will be a tapered rate of relief on properties worth up to £15,000. This means that 600,000 businesses will pay no rates.

The exception to the Chancellor's "low tax" Britain is a new sugar tax that will be imposed on the soft drinks industry. It will be introduced in two years' time, raising £520m which will be spent on primary school sport.

Forum of Private Businesses chief executive officer Ian Cass said: "The disproportionate burden of tax and regulatory adherence for small businesses is a limiting factor on their growth, and the Chancellor has partly demonstrated that he recognises this. We will continue to lobby for more simplification and more encouragement for investment in small private and family owned enterprises."

He added: "The Chancellor has listened to our calls to create a level playing field by taxing multinationals and looked to reinvest the money in small businesses. The changes to business rates were more positive than we could have expected given the circumstances."

While the rate relief is good for small business it has raised fears that local authorities will lose out, as they are increasingly reliant on business rates as their central government grant is cut.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: "I had really hoped that the Chancellor would have recognised by now that all parts of the economy should benefit from tax simplification, as it is there is little support for capital investment on farm for buildings and reservoirs.

"Significant falls in farm income, driven by world commodity markets, can be observed across almost all sectors. Average dairy farm incomes are forecast to fall by almost half 50 per cent for 2015/2016, whilst arable incomes are expected to be down by almost a quarter.  It’s particularly disappointing that the Chancellor has announced nothing to help mitigate the additional costs and pace of introducing the national living wage from April this year.

But he added: "We welcome the announcement of a permanent increase in small business rate relief from £6,000 to £15,000 meaning that 600,000 small businesses will no longer pay business rates. This is welcome news for farmers with diversified enterprises.

"Changes to the stamp duty on land transactions will be concerning for farmers who are looking to make purchases of farms over £1 million. However we do welcome the cuts in capital gains tax rates and the increase in the personal allowance threshold for income tax."

"We will study the implications of the proposed levy on sugary drinks and respond to the Government’s planned consultation, but it is reassuring that the Chancellor confirmed that neither milk based nor pure fruit juices will be included in the levy.  

Spending cuts

It is unclear as yet where the £3.5bn of spending cuts will come from, but they are likely to fall mainly on unprotected services. Yesterday (14 March) the Local Government Association's chairman Lord Porter warned the chancellor not to deepen the already-drastic cuts to local government spending, saying such a move would be a "false economy" and would leave other, protected areas such as the NHS picking up the pieces.

Porter said councils have "more than played their part in trying to balance the nation's books".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said local authorities/councils are facing a 79 per cent cut in their funding. He added that in work poverty would be at the highest levels on record.

Infrastructure upgrades

Crossrail 2 in London and the HS3 link between Manchester and Leeds will go ahead, and there is £700m for flood defence and flood resilience schemes.

More than £230m has been earmarked for road improvements in the north of England, including upgrades to the M62.

London mayor Boris Johnson said the budget brings "fantastic news" for London with the Government investing in Crossrail 2, Old Park Royal and business rate devolution.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: "News that the country will invest £700 million more in its flood defences will be welcomed by the many farmers and their families who have faced devastating damage this winter. But we should be clear this is funded by an increase in insurance premiums for all.  I am also seeking assurance that the planned £40 million per year increase in maintenance expenditure will protect deserving rural communities as well as urban areas."

Garden 'suburbs' to solve housing crisis

Landscape Institute president Noel Farrer commented on Osborne's plans to make it easier to expand towns and cities to build thousands of new homes in garden 'suburbs', as part of plans to alleviate the housing shortage.

Farrer said: "Garden cities provide an exciting opportunity to encourage a revolution in the way we plan and deliver new communities with sustainable lifestyles fit for the 21st century.  We can only welcome the announcement that the Government is to support the construction of new garden towns and cities and support those areas that wish to establish garden villages and market towns of between 1,500 to 10,000 homes.

"However, we need to see the details and we are yet to be convinced that meaningful landscape consideration is at the heart of any proposed new garden cities. The vision for any new garden city must first and foremost be informed by an understanding of the characteristics unique to its specific location; its local landscape character.

"Landscape is the primary consideration in delivering places where people want to be; want to work; want to innovate. People want to live in desirable housing, not just any housing. Poor design is a barrier to any new developments. Existing residents in cities, towns and villages need to believe that new housing will enhance, not diminish, their quality of life and the value of their homes.

"By adopting a landscape-led approach, change in the landscape should not be feared as it helps guarantee long term economic value and makes the most of our precious land resources."

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