The chancellor Jeremy Hunt today (22 November) delivered his second Autumn Statement.
He billed today’s event as an “Autumn Statement for growth” and it contained no fewer than 110 measures to promote growth. Despite being on his feet for a fraction over an hour, there was no way for Hunt to be able to highlight all of these measures.
Business growth plan
Although the chancellor didn’t directly mention international trade, imports or exports in his speech, Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), says that there was a surprising amount for the UK trade community in it:
“The announcement of the extension of tax reliefs for freeports [from five to 10 years] is exactly right and provides certainty for the businesses which were considering investing in them.
“Freeports now have the opportunity to take long-term decisions and play a key role in attracting more investment into the UK.
“The new investment zones, all focused around advanced manufacturing, will strengthen the UK’s position as a leading manufacturing nation.”
More broadly, Forgione says that IOE&IT members will be pleased by many of the growth measures announced:
“The announcements on national insurance, business rates and full capital expensing are all very positive and welcomed by our members. However, it is clear from the Office for Budget Responsibility that growth is still constrained.
“Our members, and the wider business community, will be looking for much more in the spring which encourages investment and supports UK businesses, who are the backbone of UK growth.”
One major area of focus for IOE&IT in 2023 has been the launch of the E-Commerce Trade Commission, an initiative to encourage more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to start exporting using online platforms.
Here, Forgione again says there was some good news, but that more could be done:
“There was a lack of direct support to help small businesses trade online, although the government’s commitment to set up a taskforce with industry to explore how best to support SMEs to adopt digital technology will greatly assist their capacity to export.
“The focus on AI to make the UK a ‘powerhouse’ is also vital for supporting businesses to make their trade processes smoother and more competitive in the future.”
An update to apprenticeships
Forgione says that IOE&IT as well as many of its members are major supporters of apprenticeships and the improvement of the scheme was one request in IOE&IT’s letter to the chancellor:
“The increased investment for apprenticeships is vital, as this is a necessary part of closing the skills gap.
“We called for the government to look at reforming key aspects of the current apprenticeship model and it’s encouraging to see a commitment in the Autumn Statement that the government will continue to work closely with businesses to improve the apprenticeship
system to meet the needs of learners, employers and training providers.”
Lack of an import strategy
IOE&IT’s letter to Hunt also called for a formal import strategy to support the existing export strategy.
While Forgione was pleased that all the recommendations of the Harrington Review into foreign direct investment would be implemented – including his call for a business investment strategy – it was a missed opportunity not to take a similar approach
“It is disappointing there is still not a plan in motion to create an import strategy, which would be linked to the current export strategy. This would have given domestic and foreign businesses more confidence to make long-term investment decisions
in the UK.
“Real growth and economic security can only be achieved through unlocking the potential of international trade in every town, city and region of the UK.”