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WEEKLY POLICY UPDATE 18/02/16

Home / News & Opportunities / Chamber News

Date: 18/02/2016

This week’s policy update looks at Business Rates, the latest BCC EU survey and the news that David Cameron supports efforts to secure rail investment in the North Cotswolds.

Summary:
  1. Prime Minister welcomes shared vision for future of rail in the North Cotswolds
  2. BCC: Business voting intentions harden as PM seeks final deal on Europe
  3. Self-employed need more support – its time to sweep those barriers away
  4. BCC: Record business rates haul highlights need for real reform
  5. Skills gap challenge for manufacturing sector in The Marches

1. Prime Minister welcomes shared vision for future of rail in the North Cotswolds

On Friday 12 February, Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed efforts to secure long-term rail improvements in the North Cotswolds at a conference designed to unite business leaders, local authorities and LEPs.

The conference, which had over 120 delegates, was organised by Great Western Railway (GWR) and hosted by Lord Richard Faulkner, in order to build a case for more local services and improved long distance services to London and Heathrow.

At the event, Mark Hopwood, CEO of GWR, laid out his vision for the line. Here are some key points:
  • Two trains per hour between Worcester and London
  • Journey time between Worcester City and London to be less than 2 hours
  • Faster services to and from Hereford
  • One train per hour between Great Malvern and London

Read more about the event here.

Speaking after the event David Cameron said:
“It was a real step forward to bring together local authorities, LEPs and businesses from along the North Cotswold Line today to kick-start discussions on how they would benefit from improved rail.”

Sophia Haywood, Policy & PR Executive, Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, said:
“It was great to see such a vision for the future of rail in the North Cotswold’s and what this means for the two counties. There are lots of great developments in the pipeline such as the new Worcestershire Parkway station and the potential of more rail improvements.”
 

2. BCC: Business voting intentions harden as PM seeks final deal on Europe

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the senior businesspeople polled in a major new British Chambers of Commerce survey have revealed that the outcome of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation is unlikely to change how they will vote – despite large majorities saying they are familiar with the objectives of the renegotiation package.

Views vary between categories of business with those exporting only to the EU expressing the strongest support for “remain” while those exporting only outside the EU expressing the strongest support for “leave”.

When it comes to how individual businesspeople will vote in a forthcoming referendum, 60% would vote to remain, down slightly from 63% in September, and 30% would vote to leave – up slightly from 27%.

Find out more here.

John Longworth, Director General of the BCC, said:
“Our findings suggest that for businesspeople, this is a question of in or out — not renegotiation. Business remains divided on Europe, and business leaders’ views reflect the size of their firm and their export interests, rather than the current political debate. They are making rational economic choices based on their own interests.”


3. Self-employed need more support – its time to sweep those barriers away

Self-employed workers should get more support in running their businesses, says a review commissioned by the government from leading businesswoman Julie Deane, who founded The Cambridge Satchel Company.

The report said that self-employed people now stood at 4.6m or 15% of the UK workforce, an all time high. The report calls on the government to consider increasing the maternity allowance paid to self-employed people for the first six weeks, bringing it into line with the statutory maternity pay.

The report also calls for better education to prepare young people for their future, in which self-employment might play a role. It calls for the need for more flexible financial solutions and the need for a legal definition of self-employment.

Read the report here.

Dr Adam Marshall, Executive Director of Policy at the BCC, commented:
“Julie Deane is right: it’s time to sweep away the barriers that stop people from working for themselves. Slashing red tape and the burdens of tax administration would also help not just the self-employed, but also vast numbers of small and medium sized business all across the UK.
 

4. BCC: Record business rates haul highlights need for real reform

As the government predicts councils will collect a record £23.5 billion in business rates next year, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is calling for bold action in the Budget to fix the fundamentals of a broken and outdated system

At the Autumn Statement in 2015 the government outlined plans to devolve significant control over business rates to local areas, which would see local councils retain all the revenue they collect in rates, and gain new powers to vary rates in some circumstances.

The BCC is calling for the government’s review of business rates, due to report at the next Budget, to introduce a reformed system with the following features:

  • a light-touch annual revaluation regime, to stop businesses being hit hard by an increase every five years
  • Removal of plant and machinery, and micro-generation from the ratings system, which discourages businesses from investing in their premises
  • Permanent abolition of the annual uplift multiplier, which doesn’t take into account the performance of businesses
  • Publication of a business taxation review with forward plans for implementing new regimes
 

5. Skills gap challenge for manufacturing sector in The Marches

A recent survey carried out by The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has revealed that almost three-quarters of all manufacturing businesses are reporting hard-to-fill vacancies with engineering being the most common gap in workforce skills.

Manufacturing businesses employ approximately 37,600 people in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin area, 14% of the total workforce in the Marches LEP.

The survey showed that larger businesses were more likely to report engineering skills gaps than their smaller counterparts. It also showed that two-thirds of businesses said that the main level of qualification needed by their employees was apprenticeships.

Download the survey results here.