Budget 2021: Desperate Hampshire businesses plead for 'lifeline' cash the chancellor Rishi Sunak

BUSINESS leaders are today pleading for the chancellor not to impose crippling tax hikes as part of his post-pandemic spring Budget.

Rishi Sunak will be unveiling his multi-billion pound cash plan to MPs tomorrow following the biggest borrowing binge since the Second World War.

During the pandemic, the government spent a huge £53.8bn on the furlough scheme, paying the wages of 11.2m Brits at its peak.

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Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer departs to deliver the annual Budget at Downing Street on March 11, 2020 in London. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

But there are now concerns that sweeping cuts and tax hikes could be needed as a result of the borrowing spree.

Ross McNally, chief executive of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce – which represents thousands of businesses in the county – has warned such cuts could cripple ‘already-struggling’ firms.

‘Our members, and other businesses in Hampshire and elsewhere, have shown remarkable resilience in the past year,’ he said. ‘What we need from government now is a clear, balanced way forward that serves as a springboard for recovery.

‘We want to see strong business incentives over the longer term. The scope for building business success in the coming years is immense, with opportunities in green innovation, new technologies, international trade and enhanced productivity.

Shoppers standing outside Argos in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, just before the latest lockdown was announced in December. Photo: Andrew Hasson/Getty Images

‘Business simply needs to be backed.’

Mr McNally urged the chancellor to green light a further extension of VAT and business rate reliefs for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.

He also insisted the easing of lockdown ‘must be a priority’ and that ‘substantive action to offset public debt’ would ‘have to wait’.

‘That means no immediate tax rises for struggling businesses as they tentatively try to stand on their own two feet again and no cliff-edge withdrawal of government support such as furlough,’ he said.

The chancellor has already revealed a £5bn relief fund to help high street stores in England.

The cash injection – which would equate to about £18,000 per firm – would be used to support stores as they re-open after lockdown.

The money has been welcomed by Nicola Bailey, development manager for Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight with finance group FSB.

She said: ‘It is an extremely challenging time for small businesses who have fought tooth and nail to stay afloat in the last year, so we are pleased that our calls for further cash grant support will be heeded.

‘This money – £5bn for 700,000 businesses – is a significant cash injection for non-essential retail, pubs, bars, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons.

‘It will provide a much-needed lifeline, offering firms some reassurance as we look to put lockdowns behind us and focus on a vaccine-fuelled recovery.’

Mr Sunak has insisted that there was ‘more to come' in terms of additional support for businesses.

While Downing Street added that the chancellor’s budget would ‘unleash growth’.

‘It is a challenging time for the public finances but what they want to be doing is unleashing growth and supporting jobs,’ the prime minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton told reporters today.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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