What impact will the Autumn Statement have for SMEs?


10 Downing Street

Almost five months to the day of the Brexit vote, Chancellor Phillip Hammond made his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons earlier this week. A period of economic uncertainty lies ahead, but what effect will Hammond’s “mini budget” have for SMEs? We’ve spoken with several thought leaders on the topic.

In reaction to the Chancellor’s plans to invest £23bn in improving the UK’s productivity and digital infrastructure, Chris Francis, Director Government Relations at SAP believes that more support is needed from the Government to ensure businesses are able to implement cutting edge digital technologies.

He commented, “We’re encouraged by the Chancellor’s plans to invest £23bn which he has earmarked to invest in infrastructure and R&D, to increase productivity and to keep Britain at the forefront of digital innovation. It’s vital that the public sector embeds smart approaches on both new and legacy infrastructure projects to maximise the benefits and accelerate the return on investment, keeping the UK competitive. It’s equally important that the Government supports demand side as well as supply side innovation and technology adoption, especially in SMEs if it is to close the productivity gap. As echoed through his comments, technology is one of the most effective ways to help businesses increase their efficiency and productivity in ways which will ultimately drive the economy forwards.

“In particular, if the Government wants to support growth in productivity and promote the UK’s position as a leader in digital innovation, then it should support those businesses implementing cutting edge technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and exploiting cloud-based services. These are the tools providing the fuel for economic growth, driving exciting innovation and putting high-end skills to use. The Government is a potent catalyst as customer, regulator and funder.”

Meanwhile, GoDaddy’s VP EMEA, Stefano Maruzzi focused on Mr Hammond’s announcement of a £400m full fibre broadband fund, noting how the announcement is a “Welcome step in achieving a greater rollout of fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity.”

Maruzzi went on to state that, “The Government must ensure it is used to lower cost and expand reach, and not simply enhance the already ample connectivity available to centres for large businesses. If the UK doesn’t invest heavily in this area and work hard to bring its high prices in line with other countries, the UK’s small businesses, particularly those outside of urban areas, will be left behind.”

Richard Agnew, VP NW EMEA, Veeam commended Hammond for his investment into digital infrastructure, stating that, “5G and fibre are a major step forward, as is the creation of the £23bn Productivity Investment Fund. Getting UK businesses into a position where they can be more competitive and continue to develop and innovate is paramount – we all want to do more business.”

Stephen Roper, Professor of Enterprise at Warwick Business School was more cautious however, commenting that, “Only time will tell, but public investment alone is unlikely to close the gap. UK firms too will need to significantly increase their investment, which is perhaps unlikely given the uncertainties of Brexit.

“Other aspects of the Statement will be welcomed by business. Confirmation of planned corporation tax reductions to 17 per cent, business rate reductions and rural rate relief are all positive steps. Less welcome in some quarters will be the increase in insurance taxes.”