Spring Statement 2019: reactions

Philip Hammond

More Business leaders have reacted after Philip Hammond delivered the Spring Statement for 2019, in which the Chancellor spoke of a ‘cloud of uncertainty’ hanging over the economy.

Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation

“In the current climate business had little expectation for today’s Spring Statement. The Chancellor’s speech did, however, contain some welcome commitments on Apprenticeships, the digital environment and green economy, all of which are vital for the future of the UK economy.

“Nevertheless, in the greater scheme of things, with growth forecasts being revised down and the risk of a no deal Brexit rising, businesses would have wished to hear more about Government contingency planning. For example, what support package is the Treasury preparing for those industries who will be most affected by this morning’s dramatic 0% tariff policy announcement? Will government follow the lead of EU countries by offering support vouchers to exporters and businesses who need to adapt their supply chains on account of today’s sudden tariff announcement?

“At a time of potentially unprecedented economic disruption business will want to be reassured that Parliament will mow come to its senses and put jobs, growth and the livelihoods of people across the UK first.”

Edwin Morgan, Interim Director General of the Institute of Directors

“In all honesty, today’s Spring Statement will barely register with most business leaders, as Brexit uncertainty continues to cast a shadow over their organisations.

“Warm words and proposed consultations are not enough for businesses at a time when confidence is rock bottom and investment plans are eroding away, and many will find it difficult to tread water until more decisive action at the Autumn Budget.

“While a ‘no deal’ would wreak certain havoc for many firms, we must also avoid being lulled into thinking an exit deal alone is a substitute for providing a real economic impetus that lowers costs, spurs productivity growth, and supports businesses as they adjust to Brexit, whatever its form. Indeed, the fact that the OBR lowered its forecast for GDP growth this year – based on a smooth exit from the EU – highlights just how much the economy is set to fall below its potential, even in a relatively benign scenario.

“On the upside public finances are in rude health, but the Chancellor missed a vital opportunity to outline more clearly how this might be used to build a positive long-term economic vision for businesses to get behind. Today has turned out to be even more of a non-event than anticipated, and it is yet further evidence of how the Brexit process is sapping the momentum from our domestic economic policy agenda.

“We are delighted the Government has taken forward the IoD’s specific proposal to tackle late payments. This is a thorn in the side for many small firms, and the reform will ensure the issue gains the board-level attention it deserves at big companies, without compromising good corporate governance.

“Businesses will welcome the announcement to exempt doctoral-level roles from visa caps. It represents a small step forward in unleashing R&D activity at a time when wide skills gaps are emerging across the country.

“We have repeatedly called for Brexit planning vouchers for small businesses to access specialist advice needed to help deal with the many complex queries which government guidance cannot address. Whatever happens next, the upheaval for many companies will be significant and the need for support will extend well beyond March 29th to help companies tie off the risks and capitalise on emerging opportunities. We urge the government to heed the needs of UK enterprise at this pivotal moment.”

Seb Maley, CEO of Qdos

“After the arrival of the IR35 consultation last week and amid yet more Brexit uncertainty, it’s hardly surprising – albeit disappointing – that the Chancellor chose not to address the off-payroll working rules in his speech.

“Given the economic uncertainty resulting from Brexit chaos, you are left to wonder why the Government is set on introducing further unnecessary IR35 reform that has the potential to endanger one of the UK’s most valuable assets: the independent workforce.

“Freelancers and contractors are crucial to the economy, and it’s in the Government’s best interests to support and nurture these workers. The flexibility these individuals offer businesses helps the UK negotiate through stormy waters, which makes incoming IR35 reform seem even more short-sighted regardless of the fact it will not be introduced until next year.

“The Chancellor said the Conservatives will always be the party of small business, pledged to back UK entrepreneurs and end late payment issues. Now is the time to finally deliver on these promises.”

National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Mike Cherry

“At a time of great uncertainty, the Chancellor has shown today that there is still plenty of scope to support the UK’s small businesses. Poor payment practices by big businesses towards their smaller suppliers are rife and pernicious, leading to the closure of 50,000 small firms a year.

“Four out of five small businesses have been paid late, and we told the Chancellor that today was the moment to act, to tackle this scourge once and for all.

“The commitment from the Chancellor that the Business Secretary will see this through is welcome, and we are especially pleased that the first measure has been announced – to make a Non-Executive Director responsible for the supply chain through the Audit Committee of every large business, and to report back through the Annual Report on their progress.

“The end of late payments could finally be in sight. It can’t come soon enough, to bolster small businesses at a time when they are in great need of support and a lift in confidence.”