UK tech entrepreneurs have called for reform on business rates as chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond gears up to deliver his Spring Budget tomorrow, which is expected to feature a £500m boost to science and innovation.
The requests from the country’s tech business leaders come weeks before the change in business rates payment takes place in April. The change, which is supposed to take place every five years, was controversially delayed by the government for two years in 2015.
In his first ever Budget – and the last to be announced in Spring – Hammond will set out the government’s plans for the economy based on the latest forecasts issued by the Office for Budget Responsibility and will do so at time of heightened sensitivity and increased uncertainty about the UK’s future post-Brexit.
Preparing for my first Budget, which will help make the most of the opportunities ahead and build a country that works for everyone.
— Philip Hammond (@PHammondMP) March 6, 2017
Jonathan Richards, CEO at people management software breatheHR told Tech City News that increased business rates would have a “catastrophic” impact on small businesses as well as knock-on effects on productivity.
“The government should be doing all they can to fuel small business growth, not hinder it by adding hurdles for SMEs to jump over,” he added.
“The chancellor needs to set aside more cash for SMEs in the upcoming Budget and create a support system where small businesses can speak to experts who can advise them on how best to handle the hikes,” Richards concluded.
Tom Salmon, co-founder of tech innovation consultancy The Bakery, agreed: “I think the biggest thing at the moment for entrepreneurs and small businesses is the rates increase and I think the expectation is that something will be done about this.”
With Brexit heavily on his mind, Salmon questioned whether entrepreneurs in the UK would start seeing economic incentives introduced to help stimulate innovation, which, he added, would be increasingly important after the UK leaves the EU.
Alexandra Isenegger, founder and CEO of online marketplace for lawyers Linkilaw, was also concerned about the country’s future following its departure from the Union and called for more clarity with regards to what the Brexit process would look like.
“It would be great to see some assurances from the chancellor which state whether or not the United Kingdom sees a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ Brexit,” said Isenegger.
Additionally, the founder commented on the country’s skills shortage and called for increased investment in homegrown talent.
“Even before talking about points-based or case-by-case immigration systems, we need to invest in inhabitants here,” she added, highlighting the need to equip the country’s workforce with adequate technical skills.
“Too many tech companies are missing out because they find the process unwieldy,” he added.
Additionally, Clarke called for the chancellor to expand tax incentives such as EIS/SEIS investor reliefs in order to encourage more investment in startups.
“On a regional level, the UK would benefit from a real alternative to London’s tech sector, so a commitment to HS3 between Leeds and Manchester would be welcomed, and would increase the rate of growth of those already fast-growing cities,” Clarke said.
Dr Jamie Graves, the CEO and founder of Scottish cybersecurity firm ZoneFox, also shared his views on the topic.
“What I really want to see from this Spring Budget is far more money committed to the tech sector and far more detail about how it will be spent. The UK doesn’t need any more ‘strategic digital plans’ – we need tangible results to help us move forward,” Graves said.
The CEO highlighted the widespread use of technology within the UK’s economy. Despite this, he said, cybercrime has never been more prevalent.
“I want to hear details about how the government plans to invest further into ensuring that the UK is robustly protected against this modern threat. This would not only involve ensuring the very latest in cybersecurity technology is developed here in Britain, but also that the next generation of people – particularly women, who are woefully unrepresented are trained in this sector,” he concluded.
What do you hope to see in this year’s Budget? Let us know in the comments below.