Can businesses expect to hear any good news in the Autumn Statement?
The Chancellor is set to announce measures that will restrict increases to business rates
Chancellor George Osborne is preparing to deliver the Autumn Statement, outlining the government's plans for spending and taxation ahead of the next budget.
It's a chance for businesses to get a preview of upcoming policies that could affect their finances, allowing them to prepare for any changes that will take place in their respective industries.
Yet while aspects such as fuel and alcohol duties will matter to some more than others, our research shows that energy prices are the issue small firms are most eager to see the Chancellor address.
With a number of businesses having watched their gas and electricity costs jump by 20% and 16% respectively this year, it's no surprise to see them calling for help. However, while Mr Osborne is expected to announce reforms that will cut the average annual domestic bill by £50, it appears that no plans are in place to implement something similar for businesses.
It's frustrating to hear, and we've even urged the government to reform the Climate Change Levy in a bid to give firms access to cheaper energy. But despite the struggles businesses face as suppliers push up their prices, it appears the Chancellor's focus will remain on the domestic issue.
Given that SMEs will have been expecting to see their rates jump by as much as 3.2%, the decision to set a limit and stop charges from being linked to inflation should provide some tangible financial relief
Fortunately it's not all bad news, as business rates - the second most-important cost that small firms want to see addressed, according to our survey - are set to come up in the statement.
Business rates cap
With Labour having pledged to reverse a planned increase to business rates, the Chancellor is expected to respond by announcing that any rises will be capped at 2%.
Given that SMEs will have been expecting to see their rates jump by as much as 3.2%, the decision to set a limit and stop charges from being linked to inflation should provide some tangible financial relief. Indeed, with the demise of many high street stores being blamed on business rates, having the issue on the table will be a reassuring sign for many small retailers.
But while it's encouraging to see that the problem won't be brushed under the table, it is disappointing that the Chancellor appears to have no proposals in place to overhaul the tax.
The bigger picture
One of the biggest complaints about business rates is the system itself, with many industry experts considering it to be outdated - especially at a time when so many businesses are struggling with their payments.
While the Chancellor's move is a welcome one, there are numerous calls for him to go further and announce a full review of the setup. Yet with little sign that any such report will be conducted, it seems likely that the perceived flaws with the tax will remain in place for the coming year.
So, despite the sense that we know exactly what to expect in the statement, it will be interesting to see if there are any surprises in there that could benefit the UK's SMEs.
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