March 12 2014 Latest news:
Friday, December 6, 2013
Tourism and hospitality bosses welcomed a raft of measures unveiled by chancellor George Osborne in his “steady as she goes” mini-budget.
A £1,000 business rate rebate for pubs and restaurants, the scrapping of National Insurance for 1.5m under 21-year-olds and confirmation that fuel duty will be frozen, were all moves which bosses said would help many businesses, particular a sector which is a major Norfolk and Suffolk employer, the tourism industry.
Chris Scargill, tourism and leisure partner at Larking Gowen, chartered accountants, has been one of a number of tourism advisers calling for a VAT cut for attractions, restaurants and hotels, which was not included in the chancellor’s spending blueprint.
But he said that in this period of austerity the sector “could not be greedy”, and welcomed the scrapping of National Insurance for under 21s and the rate rebate for pubs and restaurants.
He also said the freezing of fuel duty could encourage people, who might have been previously put off by the price of petrol and diesel, to visit attractions and go on days out, boosting hard-hit tourism businesses.
Mike Benner, chief executive of pub association Camra, said the business rate cut, which would help the majority of pubs, was a vital lifeline for struggling licensees, and would help keep pubs open.
The announcements came as Mr Osborne claimed economic victory over Labour as he unveiled new figures which forecast Britain’s public finances will be back in surplus by 2018, saying that critics of his austerity programme have been “proved comprehensively wrong”.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has upgraded growth to 1.4pc this year – more than double the level expected at the time of the Budget in March – and 2.4pc in 2014, and revising down expectations for state borrowing by a total of £73bn over the next five years.
But Labour rejected the chancellor’s claims of success, pointing to figures suggesting that working people were an average £1,700 a year worse off since the 2010 election because of prices rising faster than wages.
“There has not been a Parliament in living memory where we have had a fall in living standards like this,” said shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who branded Mr Osborne an “out-of-touch chancellor” who was “in denial” about the state of the economy.
The chancellor also faced criticism after controversial plans to increase the retirement age were announced.
People now in their 40s will not get the state pension until they are 68, while those in their 30s will have to wait another year until they are 69.
The government also unveiled an additional 20,000 higher apprenticeships up to 2014/15 with changes made to the way apprenticeships are funded.
Andy Wood, chairman of New Anglia LEP, said: “The principle of businesses being funded directly for apprenticeships is a good one.
“However, we want to ensure costs are manageable, so that even the smallest firms can take on an apprentice. New Anglia’s vision is to ensure that young people have the skills that businesses need to thrive now and in the future.”
Mr Osborne warned that jobless 18-21-year-olds without basic English and maths skills will be required to undertake training or lose benefits, and to start a traineeship, work experience or community work after six months or face the same sanction.
He announced an additional 30,000 university places next year, with the cap on student numbers abolished altogether in 2015.
In a move that angered environmentalists the chancellor also unveiled a new allowance to encourage investment in shale gas.
He also confirmed funding would be made available for a programme to upgrade school kitchens – pointedly voicing his support for Nick Clegg over the issue, which sparked a furious briefing war yesterday between the deputy prime minister and education secretary Michael Gove.
As expected, he gave married couples a boost by bringing in a £1,000 tax allowance transfer.
And he sought to take some of the steam out of the overheating London property market by imposing Capital Gains Tax on residential properties sold by owners who are not resident in the UK.
Broadland MP Keith Simpson said: “It was a steady as she goes budget spelling out just what the future spending commitments are in public expenditure. There were relatively few gimmicks in it. Everything had to be paid for by reductions in expenditure.
“This was not a sort of boom and bust Autumn Statement.
“Given the election is 18 months away most colleagues would rather George Osborne erred on the side of caution.”
He added that the action for small businesses would help the tourism sector in Norfolk where there were hundreds of small businesses.
But Norwich North Labour candidate Jessica Asato said that while she welcomed the 2pc cap in business rates for small businesses, they had not actually been frozen or touched.
“It was a give and take budget and in the end it doesn’t look like as though many people are winners from it.”
She said the cost of living was set to be squeezed further with inflation set to rise, and wages not keeping up.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Growth may be returning but families are getting poorer. The official forecasts show that Britain’s living standards squeeze is to get even tighter – a point curiously absent from the chancellor’s address – and is a major blow to hard-working people.”
The Trussell Trust said more than 500,00 people had accessed its foodbanks since April and the recovery “is not filtering down” and poor families were “teetering on a financial knife edge”.
The charity’s executive chairman Chris Mould said: “We’re glad that the economy appears to have turned a corner, but we can’t ignore the reality for millions of British citizens who are facing a tougher winter than ever.”
What did you make of the budget? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant. co.uk
See today’s EDP Autumn Statement special supplement