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Cowgills Round Table: Spring Budget 2024

On the day of the final Spring Budget 2024 before a general election, six professionals joined senior Cowgills staff for a round table discussion about the Chancellor’s key announcements and the implications for their respective industries.

While everyone agreed that Jeremy Hunt’s speech was specifically designed to win over voters later this year, not least with the widely trailed cut in national insurance for both employed and self-employed workers, there was also consensus on the lack of real measures to improve productivity or encourage investment.

However, there were a few raised eyebrows when Hunt announced a tax cut to Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on residential property, followed by agreement around the table that it represented a vote-grabbing measure.

Amid groans at the Chancellor’s multiple jibes to the opposition benches, those around the table at Cowgills head office in Bolton digested his core policy statements and reflected on the ramifications both for their own businesses and for the North of England.

 

Glaring by its absence

Hunt’s speech was longer than his previous Budget addresses but has some way to go to beat the longest ever – that delivered by Gladstone in 1953, lasting a mind-numbing four hours and 45 minutes.

However, despite the Chancellor speaking for 70 minutes there was scant mention of how the Government will empower businesses to improve growth, productivity and address the primary concern of all the round table participants – getting people skilled and in the workforce.

“While National Insurance is a big one, I didn’t see anything about investment in businesses,” said Lee McCarren, managing director of Domis Property Group. “Although there is an apprenticeship programme out there, the reality of getting apprentices through into work is almost non-existent. The barriers for entry are so high, and the dumbing down over the years of the apprenticeship programme just doesn’t do the construction industry any good. Personally, we want big investment into skills and training in construction apprenticeships.”

Regarding training the next generation, McCarren said: “We are doing it off our own bat without any government help whatsoever. If the government truly wanted to place people in different sectors, they should do a targeted approach to different sectors.”

Paul Stringer, managing partner at Cowgills, agreed. “We’ve invested so heavily in the last two years in apprenticeships at our own cost. But the incentive to keep doing that reduces when the cost of keeping them in a competitive market outweighs the benefit.”

He added: “There’s not a business we come across that’s not broken in terms of the ability to get staff.”

Jackie Robinson, director of finance at Bolton Lads & Girls Club, said: “The continued reduction of government funding assisting kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds affects how we are able to provide for them. Trying to help get kids into work cannot be a primary focus as we are just trying to get them through life. We’re trying to give them somewhere to go, give them role models and one-to-one coaching.”

There wasn’t an awful lot in the Budget for us and our organisation, Robinson reflected. “We’re in limbo. Do we try to fund through other sources? If the funding isn’t secured, we can’t start a programme which we can’t finish. We won’t let the kids down. That is the stark reality of not getting funding.”

Lisa Wilson, head of tax at Cowgills, commented: “They talk about jobs creation in the North West but they are not knowledge-based jobs. They are low-skilled low-paid jobs such as call centre jobs which don’t benefit the local area. If you are from the North West, there is a pull to London to get highly-skilled high-paid jobs, that are just not based here.”

 

More infrastructure, please

Steve Parry, director at Total Swimming and a former Olympic swimmer stated watching the Budget announcement was “exasperating because the announcement seems to lack long-term vision. Yes, he talks about the numbers in the future but he doesn’t talk about the direction. He talks about training up young people and giving them aspiration and he mentions a highly-skilled workforce but where is the infrastructure backing that up? It’s not there. It’s just a lie.”

In terms of what was missing from the Spring Budget, McCarren had some thoughts. He said that “you’ve got to tackle crime and deprivation first because you’ve got such a massive divide getting bigger and bigger and bigger. There has got to be a big push on crime so kids want to work instead of getting into crime. The amount of crime in the areas we work in is off the charts. Deprivation and crime go hand in hand. I would have thought tackling it through better policing would have been a really good thing to do but none of that was mentioned today.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Brown, CEO of TVD Group, a leading provider of audio visual solutions, believed that Hunt’s Budget was “more theatre than substance. The system is broken in lots of different ways. But the cut in National Insurance is welcome.”

 

A broken system

Paul Chorlton, chief operating officer at the LOVE agency, spent the Budget speech “being annoyed because he turns it into a joke when there are so many issues that they haven’t solved. While the reduction in National Insurance is great on the surface, they have frozen personal allowances which means that some people will be worse off. Having said that, the changes to child benefit [by raising the threshold where one parent earns more than £50,000 to £60,000] is a little bit of good.”

John Ashcroft, an economist, concluded: “Overall, it was more like a hustings speech in preparation for an election than anything else. The overall macroeconomics was a bit slim. When they start to talk about international growth comparisons it’s quite amusing because it’s so tenuous and vacuous.”

 

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If you have any queries about anything that was announced in the budget, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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The information was correct at time of publishing but may now be out of date.

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Posted by Cowgills
21st March, 2024
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