Shropshire Chamber of Commerce has welcomed moves in the Budget designed to tackle the skills shortage which it says is ‘blighting the economy’.

But the Chamber believes that concerns remain about whether enough has been done on energy bills to help the many smaller businesses across the county who are ‘fighting to survive’.

Ruth Ross, Shropshire Chamber’s deputy chief executive, said: “The Chancellor has clearly felt the need to act to address the unfilled jobs blighting our economy, which was so badly needed.

“Help on childcare costs, and extra incentives designed to entice more over 50s back into the workplace are also to be welcomed.

“And for companies which were concerned at the rise in corporation tax, it was also reassuring to hear that some of this can be offset against research and development costs.”

She added: “The jury is out, though, on whether enough has been done to ease the pressure which Shropshire businesses are facing with their energy bills.

“Our quarterly survey results show that many will struggle to pay their bills in April, and say they cannot invest for the future when they are simply fighting a cashflow battle to survive.

“There appears to be little in this Budget statement that will provide much comfort to these businesses – apart from the predicted sharp fall in inflation later this year.”

The British Chambers of Commerce has repeatedly called for reforms to business rates, but Ruth said the Government had failed to deliver.

“We agree with the BCC when it says that the Government must shift the dial further on investment, both within the UK and from overseas, if innovative growth industries are to remain competitive on a global stage.”

Giving her full reaction to the Budget, Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The most recent BCC survey on investment found that only a fifth of firms were increasing investment and a similar number were reducing it. This budget looks unlikely to change that dynamic. 

“This is especially true for almost half of businesses who told us they will struggle to pay their energy bills from April. They cannot invest when they are fighting to survive. Beyond the £63m of additional support targeted for leisure centres, there is little that will provide comfort to these firms.  

“The Government also failed to reform business rates which we have repeatedly called for. If the UK’s innovative growth industries are to remain competitive on the world stage, then Government must shift the dial further on investment, both within the UK and from overseas.” 

Alex Veitch, Director of Policy at the BCC, looks at some of the main points:

  • Skills shortages: “It is encouraging to see the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations on adding five new construction jobs to the Shortage Occupation List have been accepted. More frequent reviews of the system are also good news, but the lack of skilled labour is having a corrosive effect on our economy. This shift to a new system cannot come fast enough and other sectors facing huge recruitment pressures, such as hospitality, must be given help.” 
  • Business Rates: “We are disappointed to see that the Government failed to undertake further reform of the business rates system, which places a significant burden on firms. We need to see a move to annual revaluations, and a more ambitious approach that incentivises rather than disincentivises growth and green investment in the long term.” 
  • Energy Support: “Once again Government has failed to understand that the energy crisis for businesses and households are two sides of the same coin. Extending the Energy Bills Relief Scheme for households is hugely welcomed, but with reduced support for businesses planned form April, and no sign of further support, many will be reliving the anxiety they were facing a few months back. We included seven energy recommendations in our budget submission, but not one of these has been acted upon today.” 

On trade, William Bain, Head of Trade Policy at the BCC, said: “Trade was not mentioned once by the Chancellor, yet again he has neglected the significance of exports – which are a big driver of economic growth. While the later announcement on easing some customs procedures is welcome, it doesn’t address the fundamental challenges facing our exporters. 

“The OBR forecasts predict a drop of 6.6% in export volumes in 2023 followed by a further drop of 0.3% in 2024. This would mean two years of lost growth for UK goods and services exports.  

“The UK Government must urgently look to improve our trading conditions with the EU and move heaven and earth to increase take up of preferences in new and existing trade agreements, which many small businesses remain largely unaware of.”