Business

BUDGET 2023: North's business bodies left largely underwhelmed by Spring Statement

“We've not heard much that might benefit us here in general," - Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill.

BUSINESS bodies in the north were left with relatively little to cheer from Wednesday’s Spring Statement.

Alan Lowry, the policy chair of Northern Ireland’s largest business body, the Federation of Small Businesses, his members had been left “somewhat underwhelmed” by what Jeremy Hunt had to offer.

“We wanted to see additional short-term support on energy costs to help smooth out the impending cliff edge facing businesses come April – when the current assistance dwindles. These were notable by their absence,” he said.

Mr Lowry while the full capital expensing for businesses investing in new equipment was a positive, he said it doesn’t make up for the R&D tax credits for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) or the increase in Corporation Tax to 25 per cent.

“Beyond the measures that apply UK-wide, the negative impact of having no functioning Executive is now more apparent than ever on announcements such as investment zones and economic inactivity,” he added.

Speaking from Washington DC, the president of NI Chamber, Gillian McAuley there was little in the Budget to provide comfort to businesses struggling with energy costs.

“We know that as many as four-in-five of our members experienced energy cost increases in excess of 30 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2022, so it is still at the top of NI business concerns.”

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said the reaction from the north’s pubs and restaurants was “muted”.

“We’ve not heard much that might benefit us here in general, and it’s hard to be enthusiastic about what’s been laid out today,” he said

“We do welcome the fact that draught beer duty reduction will be extended to Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework in August, reducing up to 11p less than similar products in supermarkets.

“However, we still have to focus on the here and now of the hospitality sector and despite some evidence to show that we are moving in the right direction, we are still faced with massive pressures relating to high energy prices, cost of food, greater strain on household disposable income and still no move on sky high hospitality VAT. This makes profitability a distant reality for many business owners.”

He added: “It is obvious that without the Executive or Assembly, and the absence of a local budget, that targeted interventions are less forthcoming and we would encourage everyone involved to start mapping out a pathway for boosting the economy, a pathway in which the hospitality sector can play a significant role.”

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the Barnett consequential from the new childcare provisions announced for England in the Spring Statement "must not end up in the bottomless black hole of Stormont”.

While he welcomed news of a potential new investment zone, he added: “We are disappointed that further support for small businesses struggling with the cost of doing business crisis was not included in this budget."