NFU welcomes Budget commitments that it says will benefit 40,000 farm businesses

Commitments in last week's Budget to cut National Insurance bills and scrap fuel duty have been welcomed by the NFU along with small-business representatives.

NFU president Peter Kendall said the creation of an employer's National Insurance contributions allowance of £2,000 from next April "will benefit 40,000 farm businesses in England and Wales".

Meanwhile, the scrapping of the 3p fuel duty rise in September "will help the food and farming industries that have been struggling to absorb rising fuel costs", he added. But he expressed disappointment that small businesses were given no further incentive to make capital investments.

Federation of Small Businesses chairman John Walker said: "This Budget opens the door for small firms to grow and create jobs. We now look forward to hearing details on how the Government intends to take forward the Business Bank that will help provide much-needed access to capital for small firms."

Chancellor George Osborne made no mention of any minimum pricing on alcohol, adding to the impression that the policy is being shelved. "There's a lot of speculation that it's about to be dropped, though officially nothing has changed," said National Association of Cider Makers representative Simon Russell. "We are now cautiously optimistic that it won't happen any time soon."

With the Scottish Government facing a legal challenge from European wine and spirits producers to its minimum pricing legislation, Russell added: "Westminster may be waiting to see what comes of that."

Meanwhile, the retention of the alcohol duty accelerator, which raises duty by two per cent above inflation, remains a concern, he said. "It's not great news as it's likely to be passed on to consumers. It isn't in anyone's interests because it will hit consumption."

Shale gas fracking Tax regime incentives

The chancellor announced what he described as "a generous new tax regime to promote early investment" in shale gas exploitation, with new planning guidance due by summer.

But Farm Energy Centre commercial director Chris Plackett said: "It's unlikely to be a game-changer for protected horticulture growers and it's a long way away from happening."

He added that there is already strong public opposition in areas such as Lancashire where plans for fracking are underway.

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