British Chamber of Commerce slams Spring Budget for sending 'mixed signals' and business rate easing

Adam Marshall said that, however welcome, ‘measures that mitigate the short-term impact of business rate rises are little more than a sticking plaster’

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The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce has criticised the government for sending “mixed signals” in Wednesday's Spring Budget and has criticised measures to alleviate the pressures of business rates as far too weak.

Adam Marshall said that, however welcome, “measures that mitigate the short-term impact of business rate rises are little more than a sticking plaster”.

“The radical changes needed to improve the broken business rates system will have to wait for another day,” he said. “The campaign for radical reform – and an end to punishing levels of business property tax to ensure the Treasury raises enough to fund local services – continues.” 

On Wednesday, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced three measures designed to ease the burden of business rates across the country, amounting to cuts of £435m.

He said that any business coming out of small business rate relief would benefit from a cap which prevents the rate that it pays from going up by more than £50 per month. He also announced that the government would provide a £1,000 discount on business rates bills for all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000, and that the government would provide local authorities with a £300m fund, to “deliver discretionary relief” in local areas.

“Taken together, this is a further £435m cut [...] targeted at those small businesses facing the biggest increases, protecting our pubs and giving local authorities the resources to respond flexibly to local circumstances,” Mr Hammond said.

A host of business lobby groups, including the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, previously claimed hundreds of thousands of retailers, from shops to cafes to hotels, would be facing massive and unfair tax increases.

Mr Marshall on Wednesday insisted that the Chancellor's plan does not go far enough to support businesses of all sizes at a crucial time for the economy. 

“More needs to be done in the coming months to improve infrastructure and encourage lagging business investment to ensure the UK is Brexit-ready,” he said. 

For now, he said that the BCC challenges councils across England “to use every penny of the new funding announced by the Chancellor to offer relief to the hardest-hit businesses in their areas, without excuses and without delay”.

On spending, he said that the Government was sending mixed signals.

“While business people appreciate a steady hand on the tiller, the government is sending mixed signals by holding investment largely steady at precisely the time that it is exhorting British businesses to double down,” he said.