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Liz Cameron: Rishi Sunak needs to expand core support

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Businesses are in a race for survival and many have already fallen into the traps that have arisen since the pandemic started taking its toll almost a year ago now.

We have been very clear that as Chancellor Rishi Sunak sets his budget, support will continue to be needed until businesses can reopen. Come budget day on March 3rd, we need Mr. Sunak to keep his nerves and not withdraw business help prematurely – especially as we approach the final hurdle. As vaccine expansion expands and transmission numbers continue to fall, we are increasingly closer to the opportunity to be able to open our doors, trade, and bring our employees back again.

To mitigate the economic damage caused by the blockade, support schemes set up by the UK Government, including the coronavirus job placement scheme, financial loans and the self-employed income support scheme, have saved many businesses and work.

That said, support for overhead and fixed costs has been less generous and there has been a lot of disappointment that additional support will be required. The current food access approach to business support measures is very short-term and leaves businesses unable to plan effectively, invest and have the confidence to hope for survival and growth.

From support schemes, action is seen by many businesses as the most effective and widely adopted measure. The Bank of England has acknowledged that the scheme is masking what would otherwise be much higher unemployment figures.

But if the Chancellor does not continue to work in any form, the risk is that all the good work and public finances invested in job support will be wasted. Why pay almost the full price for something just to cancel the last minute order – and it is non-refundable.

There are other levers that the UK Government can pull off to support jobs.

Even before the pandemic, businesses worried about the cost of maintaining or increasing their workforce. Our research shows that a significant number of jobs risk being lost in the coming months as businesses try to rebuild cash flow and seek as fast as they can afford the financial costs that come from them.

A very effective way to save jobs is to reduce unpaid labor costs. We believe that an immediate way to protect jobs and help create new jobs when the economy can fully reopen is a temporary but significant reduction in employers’ national insurance contributions.

We also hope that there will be opportunities and announcements that will enable and encourage businesses to invest. A simple way to do this would be to ease the tax burden by extending the VAT deferral at least until the end of 2021. Extending the repayment plan options further, including extending the March deadline 2022 for the payment of deferred VAT interest-free installments must also be considered.

We also need to see the reversal of ill-considered policies such as the reverse payment of VAT on construction and the construction trade. The chancellor must show leadership by supporting business investments.

Clearly the government cannot fix all the challenges that lie ahead of us. But now would not be the time to consider raising taxes – there are other more creative and innovative ways to increase tax collection.

Following the announcement of the Chancellor’s Budget, I look forward to joining The Herald’s Iain Macwhirter and other colleagues at The Herald Budget Briefing. It will be a useful opportunity to identify what was good for the Chancellor’s Budget – and what could have been better. We will mark the score card.

Liz Cameron is the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce



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