Autumn Statement: Some positives, says chamber chief, but what’s in it for the North?

As Chancellor Philip Hammond stood up in the House of Commons to deliver his Autumn Statement, business leaders gathered at Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce to watch. Tony McDonough reports.

Business leaders gather at Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce to watch the 2016 Autumn Statement
Business leaders gather at Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce to watch the 2016 Autumn Statement

Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce chief executive Jenny Stewart gave a cautious welcome to the Autumn Statement. Ms Stewart chaired a round table discussion of business leaders in Liverpool city centre following the speech in the Commons by Chancellor Philip Hammond.

She said:  “There are a number of positives in the statement such as the government’s commitment to research and development and the new national productivity fund.

“However the Chancellor compared the national productivity gap to that of Europe, not the north/south gap, which may be at risk of widening if issues are not addressed.”

Liverpool & Sefton Chambers chief executive, Jenny Stewart, addresses the event
Liverpool & Sefton Chambers chief executive, Jenny Stewart, addresses the event

She also said that she welcomed the commitment to double the UK’s Export Finance capacity. Liverpool & Sefton Chamber helps many businesses across the city region to trade overseas.

“I was pleased with his commitment to Transport for the North particularly and UK infrastructure projects in general,” she added.

“Connectivity is a key driver for economic growth, therefore investment in transport and digital connectivity is positive.”

 Ms Stewart also said she was concerned about the increase in insurance premium tax (IPT) from 10% to 12%.

She explained: “We have a number of insurance companies in Liverpool which have been affected by the doubling of IPT over recent years.”

She also noted that health insurance was not exempt from this which may in fact increase pressure on the NHS in the longer term.

Those fears were echoed by Sue Weir, chief executive of Liverpool-based health cash plan provider Medicash, who spoke at the chamber event.

Ms Weir said the move could cost her organisation more than £1m extra a year.

She explained: “We act as a tax collector for the Government of IPT is part of a premium that a person would pay to us and then we pay over to the Government.

“We pay is straight to the revenue so by the time the tax change comes in we will be paying an extra £1.5m a year to the revenue – that is not small change. It is a lot of extra money to find and it will be challenging.”

Also at the event was Cllr Nick Small, Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Employment & Skills.

He was concerned that when talking about infrastructure, the Chancellor made a specific mention of a new railway line linking Oxford and Cambridge.

“There could be a big drain on that for us with infrastructure spending going on schemes in the South East – we have to resist that.”

Cllr Nick Small is concerned about infrastructure spending going to the South East
Cllr Nick Small is concerned about infrastructure spending going to the South East

However, Dean Currall of Verb Marketing, was impressed with the emphasis on manufacturing and technology in the Chancellor’s speech.

“Overall there seems to be a widespread recognition by the Government, finally, that we can’t sustain an economy just on services,” said Mr Currall.

“Understanding that manufacturing, wherever it comes from, and a high-level skilled workforce is vital. Germany has understood that for a long time and now Britain realises it needs to do that, too.”

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