Sunderland business leaders give Budget a cautious welcome

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Budget statement to the House of Commons, London.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his Budget statement to the House of Commons, London.
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NORTH East business gave yesterday’s Budget a cautious welcome.

 The North East Chamber of Commerce was pleased with much of what Mr Osborne said – but felt some opportunities had been missed.

Measures announced included a ‘major review’ of the business rates system and abolition of Class Two National Insurance contributions for the self-employed and the annual tax return, which will be replaced by digital and online systems.

Director of Policy Ross Smith said: “There have been several positive announcements made by the Chancellor.

“The elimination of National Insurance payments for Under-21s and the abolition of the annual tax return will make life much easier for our smaller business members and contribute to the positive employment figures released on Wednesday morning.”

But the Chancellor had failed to deliver one some of his promises, said Mr Smith.

“While there have been promises made around business rate reform, annual investment allowances and northern transport, we are yet to see action,” he said.

“Actions speak louder than words and these issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency by whoever is in the Treasury after the election.”

Moves to raise the region’s international profile were also welcome. Chamber head of member relations Jonathan Walker said: “The announcement to provide £300,000 funding for a new marketing campaign to promote the tourism links between Newcastle and Scandinavia is great news.

“Tourism is a valuable commodity in the North East and it provides an incredible knock-on effect for many local businesses.”

Station Taxis boss Trevor Hines welcomed news that fuel duty would be frozen again.

“With volatility of fuel prices, anything that can help is very welcome,” he said.

“Fuel is one of the major cost factors for any transport business, whether it be a taxi firm, bus operator or haulage company.

“The big drop in the price of fuel in the past couple of months has been very welcome and it has helped us immensely, but the price is already starting to creep back up. The cost of insurance is another back issue for us, but there is not a great deal the Chancellor can do about that.”

Matthew Hunt, port director at Port of Sunderland, said that measures to stimulate the growth of the North Sea industry were very much welcome, but that the North East’s prosperity relies on more than that.

He said: “Anything that can be done to stimulate the development of the oil industry is very much welcome – particularly for the North East.

“The Budget does lay the foundations for a stronger oil and gas sector, and hopefully we will see the benefit of this at Port of Sunderland.

“However, oil and gas is just one sector, and it is absolutely vital that the region is supported to grow its manufacturing sector, something that benefits the supply chain – including the port – which provides a vital service importing and exporting goods.

“The North East has a strong track record when it comes to balance of trade, and I do hope that the Northern Powerhouse the Chancellor refers to extends its impact to this part of the UK – and in turn bolsters the need for the transit of goods in and out of the region.”