Hopes are raised for a high street rebirth

Albert Road in Southsea
Albert Road in Southsea
Councillor Luke Stubbs

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Hampshire business experts hope that new measures will breathe life into high streets across the area.

George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, made his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons yesterday, which outlines the state of the economy and the government’s plans for taxation and spending.

It is different to the budget, held each spring, as that deals more with which department is getting what.

However, announcements made in the Autumn Statement impact on families, couples, business owners and students.

Locally, some of those who will be most helped are the people who are facing redundancy and are weighing up their options.

Nick Gross, chairman of Portsmouth law firm Coffin Mew said: ‘Tax cuts and the start-up loans to help 50,000 more people start their own businesses will give a confidence boost to the recovering economy, particularly for people who’ve been made redundant in Portsmouth and the Solent or whose job prospects locally are bleak following the recent announcement of the imminent closure of the Portsmouth shipyard.

‘The effect of tax breaks like this, coupled with the recently-announced City Deal for Portsmouth and Southampton, will hopefully help to counter the impact of such closures.’

Incentives have also been unveiled to get small businesses back on high streets that have become littered with to let signs and whitewashed windows in the past five years.

They include a 50 per cent reoccupation relief will help encourage new business back into empty shops, as well as the small business rate relief scheme being extended for one year from April. Inflation increase in business rates will be capped at two per cent from April 2014.

There will be a discount on business rates worth £1,000 to every retail premises in England with rateable value up to £50,000.

Councillor Mike Hancock, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development, welcomed the benefits businesses would get, but said they could have got more.

‘It all helps and it’s a step in the right direction,’ he said. ‘I am delighted about the business rates, but whether that will be enough for businesses I’m not sure.’

Cllr Hancock, who is also the MP for Portsmouth South, said relaxed business rates would hopefully bring more regeneration to the city.

‘We want to see things move in the right direction and this will go some way to helping regeneration,’ he said. ‘In terms of what will happen, we will have to wait and see.

‘I want to see people viewing this as an opportunity, that it’s a good thing.

‘All in all, all of the things that were said were helpful, but it could have gone further. The changes to national insurance contributions will help young people get back into work.’

Tim Forer, employment barrister at Portsmouth law firm Blake Lapthorn, said: ‘There’s some positive news that will help businesses – particularly the tax relief for those who want to reoccupy empty premises in high streets and the cap on business rates and fuel duty.

‘It’s an interesting idea to cap the welfare spend overall, as that’s by far the largest area of government expenditure. Overall, the government’s plans are not spectacular but they do seem realistic.’

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage, who was appointed as the government’s small business ambassador for the south this year, said: ‘It is great news for small businesses who will now have more capital to reinvest in their enterprise and stimulate growth.

‘High street businesses are an important part of local life which is why I am backing Small Business Saturday this weekend.

‘I hope as many people as possible will show their support for local businesses and shop small.’

SPACE firms such as EADS Astrium in Portsmouth could benefit from an £80m investment.

Science minister David Willetts, pictured, who is also Havant MP, announced the investment yesterday.

The money will form a fund encouraging British firms to work in collaboration with emerging space nations like China and India.

Mr Willetts was today due to visit Astrium, which manufactures parts of communications satellites at Broad Oak in Hilsea.

Also announced was an £11m space technology centre named after ‘God particle’ scientist Peter Higgs is to be built in Edinburgh.

GEORGE Osborne confirmed that the planned 2p a litre fuel duty rise would be scrapped.

Frank Dixie, managing director of Fareham logistics specialists PSP, said: ‘This is good news for consumers and businesses alike, particularly in the logistics sector, which is an important part of the Hampshire economy.’

He also announced that planned train season ticket rises would average 3.1 per cent rather than the planned 4.1 per cent.

The moves were welcomed by transport groups, but they also said motorists were still paying large amounts of tax and that fare rises were still outstripping pay rises for many rail commuters.

Pension age will increase

THE pension age for people now in their 40s has risen to 68, the chancellor confirmed yesterday.

And people who are in their 30s now will have to wait until they are 69 to claim a state pension. Mr Osborne said that the government needs to ‘guarantee that the basic state pension is affordable in the future, as people live longer and our society grows older’.

He added future taxpayers will be saved around £500bn by the changes.

He also confirmed that the state pension will increase by £2.95 a week from April.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB said: ‘Raising the state pension age even further will be a devastating blow for hard working people everywhere.’