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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Chamber Blog: When the talking stops

By Chris Fletcher - Director of Policy and Communications, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

A very interesting and wide ranging discussion took place at last week’s Chamber Council meeting centred around some of the announcements made in last month's Budget and their impact on business.

The first issue for discussion was the Help to Buy scheme designed to get the housing market moving by assisting buyers and, potentially, the construction sector by generating demand for new build.

At the time of the budget these proposals received a lukewarm response which was mirrored on Friday. Whilst domestic finance to assist homebuyers may well be eased through the measures (not without risk to the taxpayer it must be said) this will count for little unless the harsh credit environment that the construction firms find themselves operating in are eased. There can be all the demand in the world, but if firms are financially incapable to respond then there will be very little progress.

Of course this may prove a masterstroke by the Chancellor, only time will tell and certainly we will be keeping a close eye on what impact this has on the construction sector which, despite several attempts at resuscitation, is still in need of critical help.

Could the answer to these funding issues come through another one of the announcements in the Budget – the Business Bank?

Probably not to be honest. In a  number of meetings when this and other schemes have been discussed you sense people's gaze wandering as they try and join the dots across the plethora of initiatives and schemes launched by government to help business access finance. Friday's meeting was no different.

With mixed messages still being received from all sectors about credit conditions it was felt that existing schemes should be focused on and made to work correctly rather than add into what is becoming an alphabet soup of funds and loan schemes that in reality seem to be making very little difference.

The final talking point was business rates and responding to the Chancellor once again ignoring increasing calls to look at the impact these have on a number of businesses.

Whilst from comments in the room this is not seen as a major issue by all businesses it was felt that the process that sits behind the mechanism needs changing. It is a  blunt instrument that could, with some thought, be used in a creative way to help address many of the problems that members are raising on a daily basis especially with regard to local development.

Chamber members voted that some form of phase-in mechanism should be used to assist with new and start up businesses to offset the immediate impact of business rates. This though it has to be said should be seen as a starting point. What was clear from Friday is that this like a number of other issues could and should be looked at in more detail to make sure that where possible and on the say so of business, changes are made to make sure that things work as they should do.

At any one time we are always armed with any number of issues that members have told us about. Our Council meetings and local forums are where we refine and define what we need to do to act on these.

This isn’t about talking shops, it’s about what you want us to do when the talking stops.

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