Let’s Put the Autumn Statement into Context

Autumn_statementThe fact that this year’s long-awaited Autumn Statement got second billing on the national news behind the inclement weather speaks volumes.  The weather may have been pretty exceptional but the announcements in the Chancellor’s speech were, frankly, fairly unexceptional with the only ‘headline’ items being long-anticipated and not much of a surprise to anyone. George Osborne was keen to put evidence of economic recovery in the spotlight, enabling him to reiterate that the Government’s austerity plans are working. The usual spin and counter spin from the benches at Westminster made it difficult to understand the figures amongst the rhetoric as usual but the bottom line is this: there is a forecast for growth but there will be precious little in terms of public spending to support it and departmental cuts will continue to the tune of £1 billion over the next three years.

While the media was immediately preoccupied with the issue of retirement ages, the big wins in the Autumn Statement were for SMEs. Already Nick Clegg had pre-empted Thursday’s Statement by announcing £250 million in SME funding through the British Business Bank and, while the lobby for a reduction in business rates has not been successful, a cap at 2% will make them both more affordable and more predictable. National Insurance breaks for businesses employing young workers aged 16-21 may also provide cost savings for some SMEs. With this group also falling below the age threshold for auto-enrolment in Workplace Pensions and the Government’s pledge to create more apprenticeship opportunities, this could be a watershed moment for bringing new talent into the construction sector.

There was little acknowledgement of the challenges that still face SMEs, particularly in the regions where economic recovery is taking longer to filter through.  However, there was a clear message that SMEs are the engine that power GB Plc and some attempt to relieve the commercial pressures they face.

It’s easy to get carried away with the media agenda when it comes to big political milestones like the Autumn Statement, without looking in detail at the nitty gritty of the content and what it means for your business. There was no magic wand in Westminster on Thursday but there was some positive thinking and its worth looking more closely at how you can align that to your business strategy.