Hampshire trade boss urges reform of ‘archaic’ business rates system ahead of budget

Ross McNally, executive chair at Hampshire Chamber of Commerce.
Ross McNally, executive chair at Hampshire Chamber of Commerce.

HAMPSHIRE businesses have united to highlight their ‘economic priorities' before chancellor Philip Hammond gives his autumn budget statement on Monday. 

The Conservative politician has previously dubbed the announcement ‘one of the most important days of the parliamentary calendar’ and announced last month it would return on October 29. 

Ahead of the statement – set to be unveiled at the House of Commons – Hampshire businesses have spoken out about changes they want to see it include. 

Among these are a reform of the ‘archaic’ business rates system, ‘radical’ adjustments to the apprenticeship levy and increased support for local business groups like the Solent Local Enterprise (Lep).

In a statement, the executive chairman of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, Ross McNally, highlighted what his members want the chancellor of the exchequer to address.

‘A lot of business investment continues to be on hold due to uncertainty over Brexit, but the best Brexit deal imaginable won’t sustain our competitiveness if the fundamentals for growth aren’t right here at home,' he said.

‘If we want to tackle our still sluggish economy and build ‘global Britain’, the chancellor must do his best to boost capital investment, productivity, skills and connectivity.

‘Business rates are still levied in a way that is disproportionate to the circumstances of many individual companies. No account is taken of profitability or loss.

‘We still await meaningful reform of this archaic, iniquitous system, so we would welcome a clear sign that Philip Hammond finally intends to make root and branch change.

‘With the high street needing to reinvent itself to compete with online retailers, there is no better time to do this.

‘We should reform business rates now before we see any more empty shop fronts. We must keep our town centres alive.’

The issue of business rates has been a hot topic with traders in Portsmouth, Havant, Fareham and Gosport recently – highlighted in The News' Love Your High Street campaign

Carrying the baton for Hampshire firms, Mr McNally is also calling on Mr Hammond to improve Hampshire’s ‘huge' transport infrastructure and address the ‘unsound’ apprentice levy. 

Portsmouth City Council committed to the latter last year and expressed hopes to recruit more than 100 apprentices by 2019. 

But Mr McNally said there exists a ‘disconnect’ between money levy payers are contributing and the actual provision of apprenticeships. 

He added: ‘We need to make some fairly radical changes in it to ensure that money raised from medium to big business is truly spent on apprenticeship places to solve the UK’s chronic skills shortage.’ 

As well as calling for a ‘massive, long-term export drive’, Mr McNally called for ‘greater support’ for the Solent Lep and another local collective, Enterprise M3 LEP. 

He said: ‘We have many companies, across our county, who are doing great things in these areas but they do need a better landscape of business support to enable investment and the chance to seize export opportunities.’

This week, a sector leader from the Solent Lep was aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, in New York, to promote transatlantic trade.