Members of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce, who watched the Chancellor outline the first Conservative budget in 18 years, had mixed views on what he had to say to the local business community.
Whilst most of the key elements had already been well trailed in the media, the Chancellor still managed to surprise the House with his announcement to introduce a new national living wage for all workers aged over 25, starting at £7.20 an hour from April 2016 and set to reach £9 by 2020 - giving an estimated 2.5 million people an average £5,000 rise over five years.
Those watching the budget unfold at the lunchtime event hosted by Hill Dickinson, generally welcomed the overall direction of the proposals to support inward investment particularly the cut in corporation tax to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2020.
There was also agreement around proposals to encourage more people into employment, although some uncertainty at this stage as to how those jobs would be created and what additional support there might be for business growth. Details behind the Chancellor’s pledge to create 3m new apprenticeships whilst instigating an apprenticeship levy were also queried although sentiment towards increasing the quality of such qualifications were welcomed.
The Chancellor once again reinforced his support for the “Northern Powerhouse”, announcing further investment (£30 million) including the creation of an “Oyster” style smart card for the northern regions, but with no mention of any rail investment in the North, including HS2 or HS3, there were some concerns as to how the need for greater connectivity would be achieved.
Summing up, Jenny Stewart, CEO of the Chamber, said that whilst the Chancellor’s overall message around reducing the deficit, improving the economy and improving our skill base was a positive one, the lack of detail around investment in infrastructure, manufacturing industry and exports was disappointing.
“Going forward there are some fantastic opportunities for this city region if we play to our strengths, building a strong brand and working together to create a long term vision for the next 25 years”.