[C]umbrian businesses should benefit from measures announced in the Budget to offset increases in business rates.
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce called for Chancellor Philip Hammond to act after it unearthed instances of businesses facing increases of up to 300 per cent in their rates billsP as a result of a revaluation that comes into force next month.
Mr Hammond obliged with measures to help businesses no longer eligible for rates relief, a £1,000 discount for pubs, and a hardship fund to help those facing large increases.
Chamber chief executive Rob Johnston said: “We are pleased he has acted but it’s only a sticking plaster.
“What we really need is fundamental reform of the system. The Chancellor has pledged to do this before the next revaluation and we hope that he sticks to his word.”
Rob also welcomed the creation of T-levels, which aim to simplify vocational learning and put it on an equivalent footing to A-levels with more hours of training for 16-to-19-year-old technical students and high quality work placements.
He said: “We applaud all of this. The worry is that he’s allocated only £500m a year to pay for it all and that may not be enough. In Cumbria, it equates to £5m a year extra.”
Rob also has concerns about tax changes, which will see self-employed people pay more income tax from next year and a reduction in tax breaks for director shareholders.
He added: “There are a lot of self-employed people in Cumbria who will be caught by this.
“Many aren’t self-employed by choice, it’s the only option for them, and they aren’t necessarily earning a lot of money. They are risk takers and it seems harsh to penalise them.”
George Beveridge, chair of Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, the county’s strategic economic body, says: “We were looking for measures in the Budget to stimulate the county’s economic growth, in particular with investment in key infrastructure, transport and skills. In that context, there are some positives emerging.
“We welcome the £300m to support PhD places and fellowships in STEM subjects which benefit modern, high tech businesses in the county. We will also be looking at how Cumbria might tap into the investments in new technologies, specifically in the context of advanced manufacturing capabilities.
“In relation to the proposed ’T’-level technical led qualifications, we welcome anything which stimulates skills development for the county and increases capacity to get young people more interested in STEM related subjects.
“The proposals for new technical training and education for post-16 qualifications, with additional teaching capacity and learning hours, as well as high quality work placement opportunities, are encouraging.
“We will need to see more detail as to how they will be applied and how the courses will work, especially in Cumbria where we already have a high level of take up for vocational and technical apprenticeships.
“We will be looking closely at these and the county’s growth sectors to see if they will improve key skills routes to boost the local economy and drive provision to better meet employers’ needs.
“We also welcome the £90m that has been made available for the north to address key pinch points in roads and £200m that will be invested in broadband networks. We will be pressing our case for the allocation of these resources in Cumbria.”